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Family Law Arbitration – How it Works

Arbitration offers an alternative to the court process.

  1. The couple seeking arbitration complete and sign (personally) the form ARB1.

    ARB1 invites a member of the Family Arbitration Panel to determine their dispute in accordance with the IFLA Rules and The Arbitration Act 1996.

    The couple can agree their choice of Arbitrator or ask the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators/IFLA to nominate someone from the panel.

    By signing ARB1 the couple contractually agree to invite an Arbitrator to make a decision (known as an Award) to resolve their dispute.

    They set out in ARB1 the scope of the dispute that they want arbitrated.
  2. The nominated or chosen Arbitrator then contacts both sides. The preliminary discussion will establish the Arbitrator’s terms for acting. If these are agreed the Arbitrator will accept the appointment and the arbitration will begin.
  3. The Arbitrator, in discussion with both sides (either by phone, letter or formal meeting) will establish the procedural steps to be followed to get the case ready for a hearing. Under the IFLA rules there is freedom to set bespoke timetables or to adopt the IFLA standard procedure – which replicates aspects of the court procedure. If experts are to be instructed (for example for valuations) this can be done either by the parties on a joint basis, or by the Arbitrator himself – provided that the parties agree to pay the costs of that expert.
  4. If the parties agree, or the Arbitrator decides, there does not need to be a hearing, with an Award made on the papers alone. More usually there will be a hearing at which both sides are given an opportunity to set out their case. If there are matters which have been agreed the Arbitrator will be told, and will incorporate those agreed matters into the Award.
  5. The Arbitrator will then provide a written Award within a reasonable time frame. The Award must achieve finality – other than on maintenance or other matters which can subsequently be varied. The Award will set out the details of the case, the Arbitrator’s reasoning, the “Seat” (being the jurisdiction of the Award), and the Award itself. This is written in such a way as to be immediately capable of conversion into a minute of consent order for submission to the Court where this is required.
  6. The Award is binding on the parties.  Appeals can only be made if:
    • the Arbitrator lacks jurisdiction – highly unlikely because of the clarity of the ARB1;
    • there is serious irregularity which a court later considers has caused or will cause substantial prejudice to the applicant (s 68 AA 1996). This can include a failure by the arbitrator to act fairly and impartially (s 33 of AA 1996); failure to follow the agreed procedures or failure to deal with the issues put by the parties.

      On a point of law (s 69 AA) although the parties can contract out of this if they so chose.
  7. The award will be sent to the parties by the Arbitrator, on payment of the Arbitrators fees.
  8. The parties and their lawyers will thereafter implement the Award – including if appropriate, seeking an order of the court – which is essential where there is to be pension sharing.

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They have a big team of family lawyers with a range of experiences, meaning there is advice available at all levels for cases of simplicity or complexity and in between so clients are not paying for the wrong level of advice. Again, because it is such a big team, they handle money, children and can deal with the lot rather than only having limited expertise in one area.

Legal 500 [UK 2024]

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