Most family law matters are resolved by agreement or through the court system. However, there are also alternative options, referred to as alternative dispute resolution, to settlement or court. Arbitration is one such option. If the parties agree to arbitrate their case, or a part of their case, they retain an arbitrator who they pay to hear and decide their case. The parties will still reach retain their own attorneys as the arbitrator acts as the decision maker and does not provide the parties with legal advice and guidance. The arbitrator is often an experienced family law attorney.
The parties’ sign an agreement with the arbitrator and through this agree that they will be bound by the arbitrator’s decision. The parties can determine if the arbitrator will decide all aspects of their case (such as equitable distribution, alimony and attorney’s fees) or more limited (such as division of personal property). The arbitrator is often involved in preliminary matters such as setting deadlines for discovery and a timeline for the arbitration process. Prior to the arbitration the parties, through their attorneys, provided detailed briefs to the arbitrator along with all of the documents that they want the arbitrator to consider. The arbitrator reviews everything in advance of the arbitration. At the arbitration the arbitrator has the opportunity to ask questions of the attorneys, parties and experts (if any) so that the arbitrator has all information to make a decision. The arbitrator, following the conclusion of the arbitration, issues a written decision which is often then entered by stipulation as an order of court.