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In family law, parties can effectively use arbitration as a method of having an external adjudicator decide a matter without having to go to court.  Initially the parties would enter into an agreement to arbitrate.  A qualified arbitrator who specialises in family law would be selected to consider the dispute and reach a decision that the parties are then bound by, in the same way that they would be bound by a Court decision.  There is a procedural framework for arbitration set out in the Arbitration Act 1996.

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Arbitration is increasing in popularity as it provides a more flexible option that can accommodate the specific needs of the parties.  It is expressly approved by the judiciary as an effective method of dispute resolution outside of the justice system.  Arbitration offers a couple increased flexibility to establish the parameters of the arbitration hearing on their own terms.  This means that a resolution can often be found more quickly and at a lower financial cost. The arbitration process is confidential and it can be organised to take place in a convenient and suitable location for the parties (or even using a remote format).  The parties will consider the identity of the adjudicator together and can ensure that the selected tribunal is a specialist with the relevant necessary experience.

At the conclusion of the arbitration, the arbitrator will set out his or her decision.  The court will then be invited to turn the arbitral award into a court order.  Whilst rarely occurring in practice, it is possible to appeal from a judge’s decision.

We have extensive experience of arbitrating claims and are able to guide and support our clients throughout the process.  We have considerable knowledge of the top arbitrators in the field and will assist you in selecting the best possible tribunal.


No. Arbitration is an effective method of alternative dispute resolution in financial matters but also in relation to disputes relating to children or any wider family dispute.  Arbitration can be particularly effective in dealing with very narrow areas of disagreement and is able to deal with matters quickly. It can be used to deal with all children matters save for an application to return a child to England and Wales who has been taken overseas. Arbitrations can be dealt with ‘on the papers’ i.e. without the need to incur the costs of barristers on the day of the arbitration.

A benefit of arbitration is that the parties will agree the identity of the arbitrator between them and can therefore select an arbitrator with the appropriate experience and specialism. We can advise you on suitable arbitrators depending on the circumstances of your case. The Institute of Family Law Arbitrators can also provide details of suitable arbitrators.

At the outset both parties will be asked to sign a form confirming that they agree to the arbitration process and that they agree to be bound by the arbitrator’s award. At the end of the arbitration the award given by the arbitrator will be converted into an order of the court. The arbitrator’s decision will be binding on the parties and final in the same way in which a court order would be. Court Orders can be appealed in certain circumstances and the legal test to appeal an arbitral award is the same.

Arbitration is likely to be a much quicker process than progressing through the court system. However, the parties can agree on a timetable to suit them and this flexibility is attractive to busy people.

The benefits of arbitration are multi-faceted and include:-

• Flexibility – the parties can decide on the timing and the location of the arbitration.  If the parties do not reside in the same vicinity (or indeed country) the arbitration can even take place remotely.

• Speed – The family courts in England and Wales are overwhelmed and it can take many months to obtain court hearing dates. Arbitration can often take place at a much quicker pace.

• Choice of Tribunal – it is up to the parties to select the person who will determine the issues rather than being allocated a person who may not be as specialist.  Additionally, a Judge at court will often have a long list of cases and limited time to prepare for each hearing. An arbitrator will be entirely focused on the particular matter.

• Confidentiality – the process is confidential and can also be arranged to take place at a discreet location. This can be an important factor if the press may be interested in a particular case.

• Cost – Arbitration can often be a more cost effective option simply because the time scales are tighter and matters are dealt with more swiftly.

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