Family law arbitration is an alternative path for people to resolve disputes stemming from family law issues such as divorce, child custody, spousal support, and so forth. Family law arbitration is an attractive option for people who want to stay out of a courtroom and want to resolve these sensitive matters in a more private setting.
If you move forward with family law arbitration, you will need to formally agree to enable a trained, third-party decision-maker to decide the outcome of the disagreement. In effect, you would be giving up your right to go to trial and empowering the arbitrator to decide the outcome of your family law matter.
What is Arbitration?
In arbitration proceedings, a neutral individual (typically a lawyer or retired judge) will listen to the arguments made by both spouses on one or more issues. The arbitrator will assess the evidence and make a decision on the issue or issues. Similar to a judge’s decision in a traditional legal proceeding, the arbitrator’s decision will become legally binding if neither party objects.
Arbitration vs. Mediation
While there are important similarities between mediation and arbitration, they serve very different purposes and have notable distinctions.
If you opt for arbitration, you are giving up your right to a trial with a judge. Instead, you are voluntarily agreeing to allow an arbitrator to possess the power and authority to decide the outcome of your case. This is because arbitration decisions are legally binding.
In contrast, mediation is not legally binding. Rather, it is another form of alternative dispute resolution whereby you and your spouse agree to retain the services of a mediator (usually an attorney) who is trained in helping people resolve disputes. The mediator is not empowered to decide your case or provide legal advice. Instead, they will try to facilitate an agreement between you and your spouse.
How Does Arbitration Work in Family Law?
The arbitration process entails the collection of documents and relevant information that is to be considered by the arbitrator. Both you and your spouse can request the disclosure of certain information prior to the arbitration. Your Marin County divorce attorney will also need to prepare opening and closing arguments and present evidence to the arbitrator. The arbitrator will review all of the information provided during the proceeding and render a decision as to the issues in dispute.
The arbitrator will likely act similarly to a judge during the proceeding. They possess the legal authority to interview minors and other relatives, appoint experts to assist in the case, issue subpoenas, listen to testimony, examine evidence, and ultimately issue a final decision.
It is important to note that not every family law matter can be arbitrated. In fact, only the following types of matters can be resolved by a family law arbitrator:
- Spousal support
- Child support
- Property disagreements
- Custody disputes (depending on the state in which you reside)
This means an arbitrator cannot grant a divorce, grant an adoption, or approve of guardianship over a minor. In addition, an arbitrator cannot terminate someone’s parental rights.
As mentioned, the scope of issues that an arbitrator can resolve will fluctuate depending on the state in which you reside. The Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act was drafted in an effort to standardize the rules and regulations governing family law arbitration proceedings. The American Bar Association approved the Act, and it has been recommended for enactment in all 50 states. Nevertheless, only four states have moved forward with full enactment of the Act (i.e., Arizona, Hawaii, North Dakota, and Montana). This means state law will likely play a big role in your arbitration proceeding.
How Often is Arbitration in Family Law Successful?
The answer to this question will depend primarily on the definition of “success” in the context of arbitrating a divorce, custody dispute, or other family law matter. In fact, whether or not an arbitration process was successful will be a personal determination for the participants, depending on what they were hoping to achieve as an outcome. Nevertheless, if you define “success” as a family law proceeding that is private, completed relatively quickly, and is less expensive than traditional litigation, then arbitration is routinely a successful venture.
Have Questions About the Arbitration Process or Whether to Agree to Arbitrate Your Family Law Matter? Contact the Castro Law Offices, P.C. Today
If you are in the midst of a divorce, or are contemplating filing for divorce, and have questions about the pros and cons of arbitrating a family law matter, Jeremy Castro is here to help. He is an experienced and knowledgeable Marin County divorce lawyer who understands family law arbitration. Jeremy is also well versed in mediation and litigation when it comes to handling family law matters such as divorce, child support, spousal support, child custody, and so forth. If you are looking for respected and reputable legal counsel in or around Marin County, then contact Castro Law Offices, P.C. to schedule a confidential case review.