Separate well with family arbitration

Family arbitration is quicker, more flexible and can be cheaper than going to court. It is often used for family law disputes involving finance or children.

Family law arbitration is a form of private judging. It enables families going through a separation to resolve disputes more quickly, confidentially and in a more flexible and less formal setting than a courtroom.

Our lawyers

Five of our highly qualified family lawyers at Mills & Reeve are also experienced arbitrators who offer a genuine alternative to court. All our family arbitrators can deal with disputes involving finances and we have two specialist arbitrators who also deal with disputes involving children. Examples of disputes they have successfully arbitrated include:

  • A dispute between an unmarried couple over their various properties with complicating factors around the sale of a business. We were able to agree changes to the procedures that would have applied if we had gone to court, offering a more comprehensive and effective approach to the issues and saving time and cost.
  • A case where time was short for a decision to be made about which school a couple's child should attend. Our arbitrator's ruling was made in time for the move of school at the beginning of the next school year, avoiding a potential switch mid-term.

Consultant Suzanne Kingston, one of the arbitrators within our family law team, is referred to as the “Queen of Arbitration". Her passion to help couples find a better way to separate saw her pioneer the use of family law arbitration in England and Wales and she continues to train arbitrators here and overseas.

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What you need to know

Often, when you divorce or separate, it's difficult to agree on how to split your finances or on arrangements for your children. If this is your situation, and you and your ex cannot reach an agreement through mediation or negotiation, you can appoint an arbitrator instead of going to a judge at court.

There are some situations where arbitration may not be suitable, for example if you need to get evidence from third parties or there is a risk that your ex might try to hide assets, but arbitration can be used for many of the key issues encountered when a family separates. For many family law disputes, it is a genuine alternative to going to court.

Unlike mediation and collaborative law, which are both aimed at helping you and your ex reach an agreement yourselves, an arbitrator makes the decision for you after having heard all the evidence. It is important to remember that you are bound by the arbitrator’s decision. You cannot choose whether or not to accept it and there are legal consequences if you try to ignore it.

Arbitration has many advantages:

  • Flexibility – it is more flexible than court as you get to agree the timetable and how things will be dealt with in practice.
  • Speed – you will get a decision much more quickly than going to court.
  • Choice of arbitrators – you can choose your arbitrator. Family law arbitrators are experienced solicitors, barristers, legal executives and retired judges who have been specially trained. You can choose which one to appoint and take into account their experience and cost. You can’t choose your judge.
  • Cost savings – although you will have to pay for an arbitrator, the ability to adapt the process and get a decision much more quickly usually means arbitration reduces costs.
  • Continuity – the same arbitrator will deal with your dispute from start to finish.
  • Confidentiality – arbitration is private whereas court proceedings can involve media reporting and the judge’s decision being made public.
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Frequently Asked Questions

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Vlogs from our family lawyers

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This vlog explains more about arbitration in family law, how it works, how you appoint an arbitrator and how it can help resolve disputes.

Blogs from our family lawyers

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Blog: What is med-arb? And could it be for me?

Med-arb combines two forms of dispute resolution – mediation and arbitration – to maximise the benefits of both processes to reach an agreement more quickly and cost effectively. But how do you know if it's right for you? ...

Blog: Certainty in an uncertain world

In these uncertain times, it is no surprise that family arbitration —bespoke, private, quick to set up and able to be conducted remotely on a variety of digital platforms—is becoming increasingly popular as a form of alternative dispute resolution. ...

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