What is Family Arbitration?
Family Arbitration is a voluntary method of resolving disputes in relation to both finances and children in a binding manner through the joint appointment of a private judge (the arbitrator). 1GC Family Law has been at the forefront of the development of arbitration in family cases and in relation to the recent bringing into scope of leave to remove cases, both temporary and permanent, to most jurisdictions.
Arbitration can take place at any stage and can be used to determine a discrete issue or to resolve the whole of the dispute. It is a uniquely bespoke and flexible service – the clients are in the driving seat as to how they want their arbitration to run. The arbitrator’s ability to reach a speedy determination on the papers in an appropriate case is likely to be of real benefit to clients where an urgent decision is required. Alternatively, there can be a hearing, similar to a court hearing, with or without evidence, depending on the nature of the case. This can happen remotely by way of a suitable online video platform or in person. One of the joys of arbitration is that it can be used to resolve a discrete issue (chattels, schooling etc.) which would be very costly to litigate in court. In CM v CM  EWFC 16, Moor J deprecated being asked to resolve issues between the parties about the content of a letter of instruction to an expert in a financial case, saying that this was exactly the sort of matter which should be referred to an IFLA accredited arbitrator.
A particular benefit of arbitration is that the parties are able to agree on their choice of arbitrator at the outset of the process or, if preferred, to ask the IFLA to assist in the selection. The arbitrator will be trained and accredited by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA). A range of IFLA trained and accredited arbitrators at 1GC Family Law means that clients are provided with the option of a highly experienced and expert Family Law practitioner determining their dispute. Unlike in the court process, where continuity of judge is an issue and there is little time for judicial reading, in an arbitration, the parties can be confident that their appointed arbitrator has devoted exclusive time to the assimilation and preparation of their case and will remain exclusively available to them until the arbitration is concluded. The arbitrator will also have more time available to consider and reach a decision after the arbitration and to provide it in a fully reasoned manner.
Dual qualified arbitrators can hear and determine both children and financial issues, either separately or as part of one composite hearing. This possibility of dealing will all aspects of a family breakdown in one hearing highlights the uniquely flexible nature of arbitration which may well help to reduce legal costs but also alleviate some of the stress occasioned by prolonged litigation.
For many clients, the confidentiality which arbitration ensures is an added attraction. Clients are not required to attend and wait in a public setting, with details of their confidential information at risk of being overheard. There is no possibility of media access and no risk of confidential information leaking out.
The Children Arbitration Scheme puts safeguarding and the voice of the child at the centre of the process and extends to most issues concerning the exercise of parental responsibility. Arbitration, by an arbitrator who is suitably qualifed and certified by a body such as IFLA, has been endorsed by both the immediate past and current Presidents of the Family Division.
There has been specific endorsement, at a seminar co-hosted by 1GC and IFLA, of the expansion of the scope of the scheme so that, since 6 April 2020, arbitrators may determine applications for temporary and permanent relocation to jurisdictions which adhere to the Hague Convention of 1980, the Hague convention of 1996 or, whilst the UK remains bound by this regulation (or a comparable replacement), Brussels II bis.
The outcome of the arbitration both in children and financial cases becomes final and binding once the arbitrator sends out the determination or award (judgment). Should a court be required to implement the decision (or encompass its terms in an order) this is easily achievable and there are bespoke Family Court orders to facilitate this. As with all children cases, the court retains the power to review decisions which are demonstrably contrary to the child’s welfare.
What does 1GC offer?
The barristers at 1GC Family Law who provide arbitration services are all highly qualified and expert in the field of Family Law. Each is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (MCIArb) and on the IFLA list of accredited arbitrators. Several are also part-time judges.
Our premises provide an environment ideally suited to dispute resolution with minimum stress. If the arbitration takes place in Chambers, the accommodation is provided without charge. Each party and his or her advisers will be provided with a private room for the duration of the arbitration, enabling a pre-hearing conference and break-out discussions during the course of the day. Refreshments will be provided.
All 1GC arbitrators are listed below:
- Andrew Norton QC (children)
- Janet Bazley QC (children and finance)
- Charles Geekie QC (children)
- Francesca Wiley QC (children)
- Claire Heppenstall (children and finance)
- Jane Crowley QC (door tenant, children)
The IFLA Children Scheme Referral Form including safeguarding questionnaire