What is Family Law Arbitration?
Family law disputes that range from relatively routine parenting-time matters to high-conflict custody/property settlement matters often clog court dockets. It is not at all unusual for courts hearing famly law disputes to be understaffed and facing a significant backlog of cases. Further, it is not unusual for judges to be reassigned, resulting in expensive continuances and delays.
Arbitration is an important method by which parties can quickly and efficiently resolve disputes by contracting to retain the services of a skilled and experienced decision-maker who provides a decision outside the court process. The parties can provide within their written arbitration agreement that private financial information is confidential. Further, the arbitration procedure can be structured to meet the needs of the participants by streamlining and simplifying the process.
Family Law Arbitration provides a structured hearing process conducted at a time and location convenient to the participants. The hearing process is limited to the issues submitted by the parties by way of a written arbitration agreement. The arbitration agreement may also designate an experienced family-law arbitrator, determine the privacy and confidentiality of the proceeding, and set out the parameters of the arbitrator’s decision (“Award”). It is not uncommon for parties to include a provision providing for mediation before the dispute is submitted to arbitration.
History of Family Law Arbitration
In the early 1990’s the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section and the Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) publicly supported the benefits of family law arbitration. Since that time, a number of states, such as Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, North Carolina and North Dakota, have permitted and encouraged the arbitration of family law disputes.
In 2016, the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act (UFLAA) set out a statutory framework for arbitrating all family law disputes. Associates in Dispute Resolution prefers the guidelines established by the UFLAA.
A Quick Overview of the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act (UFLAA)
Important provisions under the UFLAA provide:
- The parties select a family law “expert” decision-maker of their own choosing, usually and experienced family law attorney, a retired judge, or licensed clinical psychologist. All aspects of family law adjudication may be arbitrated with the following exceptions:
- The decision-maker is not authorized by the Act:
- Grant a divorce, adoption, or guardianship,
- Adjudicate a child in need of care or a juvenile offender matter,
- Determine the existence or nonexistence of a parent or child relationship, or
- Terminate parental rights.
- Other important provisions under the UFLAA provide:
- The selection of the neutral arbitrator will be based upon reputation, experience and expertise;
- The parties choose the issues to be determined by the arbitrator;
- The parties determine the timing and location of the hearing;
- The parties determine the evidentiary and discovery processes to be utilized;
- The parties decide the privacy and confidentiality of the proceeding;
- The parties decide the form of the written Award.
- Child custody and parenting time determinations are subject to limited court review under the best interests of the child standard.
Requesting a Family Law Arbitration Proceeding with Associates in Dispute Resolution LLC
To request a family law arbitrator, the parties submit their written agreement to arbitrate to our Case Manager for processing. The parties will be asked to pay an administrative fee of $500.00. The hourly rate after the administrative fee will be determined by the appointed arbitrator. The Case Manager will then work with the parties to establish a mutually agreeable time and date for a preliminary hearing which will be held by telephone.
What is a preliminary hearing?
The family law arbitration preliminary hearing (also sometimes known as a case management conference or initial conference) establishes a fair and orderly exchange of information between the parties, and identifies, early on, ways to streamline and create an effective process. A preliminary hearing is similar to an initial or preliminary conference in state court. The parties generally provide the selected arbitrator with a brief introduction of the dispute. Following the brief introduction, the arbitrator will then establish a hearing schedule in consultation with the parties and/or their counsel which will include a discussion of complex factual issues, if any, an exchange of information, establish mutually acceptable dates for the hearing, and discuss any applicable law or jurisdictional issues.
Preparing for the preliminary hearing.
To prepare for your preliminary hearing, you should:
- Review your arbitration agreement;
- Identify the objectives you want to achieve; and
- Determine whether you will request that your client will attend the preliminary hearing.
It is always helpful to meet and confer with the opposing party before the preliminary hearing to discuss relevant deadlines and proposed hearing date(s).
Those interested in more information regarding the family law arbitration process are welcome to contact our Case Manager, Dawn Dawson, at 785-357-1800 or email at email@example.com.