Reaching a Divorce Settlement – Private Arbitration vs Formal Court Proceedings

Divorce can feel like a daunting prospect, but it doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process involving costly court hearings.

The team at Elaine Parkes Solicitors works with a wide variety of clients across East and West Sussex. We always look for the best options for you, be that mediation, arbitration or something else that we feel will be a preferable resolution to enable you to move forward.

There are many benefits to considering private arbitration, not least being that the process usually provides a faster way to reach an agreement while courts remain closed or under limited capacity following the Coronavirus pandemic.

Let’s look at the difference between mediation and arbitration, and when these options are preferable to formal court proceedings.

What is the Difference Between Divorce Mediation and Arbitration?

Arbitration is a process where a couple meets with an independent Arbitrator, and works through negotiations. The Arbitrator will award a decision on any disputed issues.

Arbitrator’s Awards cannot usually be appealed. An arbitration process can be used alongside in-court proceedings if the divorcing couple has reached an impasse and needs assistance to reach a settlement.

Mediation is slightly different, in that the parties negotiate directly, and the Mediator does not have the power to make a decision.

Instead, they work with both divorcing people to reach a mutually fair decision.

Such hearings are private and can be used to negotiate the outcome of many aspects of a divorce, from financial considerations to making childcare arrangements.

Arbitrators are professionals, and usually experienced solicitors, legal executives, retired judges or barristers. You can choose which Arbitrator to appoint, which is valuable if there are specific issues that require expertise in that field.

Both divorce mediation and arbitration are usually carried out in a neutral place, such as a conference room at your solicitors’ office. Meetings can be scheduled at your convenience – rather than waiting for a court date to be assigned, which is heavily dependent on capacity and availability.

For many of our clients, the key benefit to arbitration or mediation is that it allows you to remain in better control of the process, and feels more manageable and less pressured than the formality of the court.

Most people going through a divorce try to balance the desire to have everything completed as quickly and smoothly as possible, while also making sure they reach the best outcome and achieve a fair distribution of assets – which is where these alternatives to court proceedings deliver.

Are There Advantages to Using Private Arbitration in Divorce Proceedings?

There are many different ways in which arbitration might be more appealing than a court hearing – some of the most common reasons our clients opt for arbitration include:

  • Reaching a resolution faster than waiting for a court date.
  • Being able to choose your Arbitrator based on your budget and any specific issues that require expert oversight.
  • Control of the situation, with the ability to decide which issues the Arbitrator will rule, meaning you don’t need to cover old ground on matters which you have already agreed upon.
  • Flexibility, with private meetings and scheduling appointments at your mutual convenience.
  • Confidentiality, a crucial factor for many divorcing couples who do not wish private information to be publicised or reported in the media.
  • Potential to save on costs – Arbitrators must, of course, be paid, but by restricting the process to those matters where you require an independent decision, you can reduce the time needed and reach outcomes more quickly.

We appreciate how tense a divorce can be, and never underestimate the need to have some elements of the process that you can stay in control of.

During a stressful period, being able to travel to our offices in Hastings or Brighton, rather than having to attend a fixed court date is often more convenient for all parties.

If you do need to attend court or require a hearing in addition to arbitration proceedings to agree on a specific point of contention, the appointed location will depend on what sort of issues are to be decided.

Usually, the Family Division of the High Court deals with matters of family law. That means being heard by a district judge in a County Court or Family Proceedings Court (a type of Magistrates Court with a speciality in family matters).

The Regional Divorce Centre covering Hastings, Brighton and much of the southeast is in Bury St Edmunds. Matters of family law relating to child custody are usually heard at Brighton County Court – although much depends on the situation and what type of issues require a court hearing.

There are options to have a Family Court hearing remotely, via video conferencing, in urgent situations – let us know if you require emergency support and we will assist you in finding the help you need.

You can find the nearest court to you by using the Gov.uk service online.

Is Private Arbitration Cheaper Than a Divorce Court Hearing?

Of the many considerations when going through a divorce, costs are always an important one.

While it may be essential to seek professional help to decide on property ownership rights or agree on how child custody is divided, it remains critical to be able to manage the financial burden associated with court hearings or legal fees.

Arbitration isn’t necessarily a cheap process, but given your ability to manage which issues are decided on by the Arbitrator, you can minimise the required time and reduce the overall costs.

Please note that you cannot get legal aid to appoint an Arbitrator, and that amount it costs depends on how long the proceedings take, where you live, and which Arbitrator you select.

However, divorce hearings can be substantially more expensive, and often run into thousands of pounds depending on the case’s complexity.

As a rough indication, a straightforward arbitration process can cost in the region of £1,000 – which you and your ex-partner will usually split as a shared expense.

The key to a successful arbitration is to appoint a professional who has sufficient experience in family law. The Elaine Parkes Solicitors teams in Hastings and Brighton can recommend outstanding local family Arbitrators, who offer flexible, efficient services to reach positive outcomes to finalise your divorce and reach a fair conclusion.

If you are interested in private arbitration or would like more information about how the process works, please get in touch. Our teams are always available to help guide you through your divorce options, with advice on the ideal proceedings for your circumstances.

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