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Arbitration – the privatisation of the Court system?

The hope for any divorcing couple is that the division of their marital estate can be dealt with by agreement, following a degree of negotiation between themselves or their respective lawyers. In the majority of cases, this is fortunately the reality and at Major Family Law we pride ourselves on using our expertise to negotiate rather than litigate.

Sadly, not all cases can be agreed in this way. The very nature of our family law legislation allows for a broad discretion to be applied when determining the division of a marital estate and this can inevitably lead to a difference of opinion in approach or principle.  In such cases parties often apply to the family courts to have their case determined by a Judge.

The process of litigation is not entirely straightforward and usually involves up to three Court hearings before an eventual decision is reached by a Judge at a Final Hearing. The process can be very frustrating for those involved in it, particularly in view of current Court delays.  For cases that must proceed to a contested Final Hearing the process can take over a year to reach a conclusion.  This also assumes that the hearings proceed as planned.  We have had experience of the Court cancelling hearings at the eleventh hour, due to lack of judicial availability.  By that stage, the cases were fully prepared and Counsel had been instructed to represent the clients, incurring costs which could not be reimbursed.

In view of these issues, some are losing confidence in the Court system as a means of resolving matrimonial disputes and are turning to arbitration as an alternative method of dispute resolution.

The process of arbitration is similar to the Court process in that a binding and enforceable final decision is ultimately placed in the hands of an independent third party – the “Arbitrator” – although there can be a number of advantages to arbitration as opposed to litigation.

Arbitration allows for a greater degree of flexibility. Court litigation is controlled by procedural rules, whereas arbitration can be tailored to suit the parties’ particular needs and allows for parties to set their own timetable and agenda.  As a result, the process is often much quicker than court proceedings, with a final decision usually being reached within 3 to 6 months.  The consequence of this quicker process is that arbitration is frequently less costly than litigation, primarily due to the compressed schedule, and the fact that once a hearing date is agreed it rarely does not proceed.  The privatisation of the process is a significant advantage as parties can have confidence that once a hearing date is fixed, their case will be determined on that date.

Another significant benefit to arbitration is that parties are able to choose the Arbitrator who determines their case. Arbitrators are selected from a pool of professionals, with experience in the field of family law, meaning parties can be assured they have the necessary expertise. By contrast, at Court, no individual judge is assigned to a case and therefore multiple judges may be involved throughout the process. Although all judges must complete training, some may have a background in civil law as opposed to a family law which some may find disconcerting.  Thus, arbitration affords the parties the ability to select the decider, whereas Court litigation does not.

For some cases, arbitration can be the solution to the problems faced by the Courts and a system which is being placed under increasing pressure with ever mounting case lists and a lack of judicial availability. Arbitration is effectively the privatisation of the Court process and offers significant benefits to those who wish to be afforded more control over the process governing the outcome of their legal dispute.

Please contact our office to speak to one of our team about whether your case is suitable for arbitration.