Couples navigating a divorce may feel uncertain about the process and the best option for their situation. One increasingly popular option is divorce arbitration, in which the couple and their respective divorce attorneys meet with a neutral third-party “Arbitrator” to settle their dispute outside of court. To help you make an informed decision, we’ve put together this quick guide to divorce arbitration, so you can decide if it’s the right choice for your situation.
Ask a Divorce Attorney: What Is Divorce Arbitration?
What Is Arbitration?
Arbitration is one of a few processes to navigate divorce proceedings without bringing the case to court. If a couple has come to an impasse or disagreement in their separation negotiations, arbitration can help them to find a solution to the dispute without the stress and expense of bringing it in front of a judge in the courtroom.
Arbitration essentially involves hiring a neutral Arbitrator who will hear both sides of the disputed issue and help the couple come to a decision on that issue (in arbitration, this decision is referred to as an “award”). The Arbitrator acts as a kind of judge: much of the same process will be followed as in a hearing, but less formally and more privately than if the case were being resolved in a courtroom.
Arbitration vs. Mediation: What Is the Difference?
When divorcing couples want to settle disputes out of court, the most common processes are arbitration and mediation. Arbitration differs from mediation in a few key ways, which are important to note when deciding if arbitration is right for you. In divorce mediation, the divorcing couple negotiates directly with one another with the help of a mediator. The mediator helps them to come to decisions based on their interests, but these decisions are not legally binding orders.
Divorce arbitration differs from mediation in that the decisions of the arbitrator, once made, are final and can not be appealed. While mediation is essentially a mediated negotiation between a divorcing couple, arbitration follows stricter, court-like procedures. The Arbitrator’s decision will be a ruling, meaning that their decision is final. Arbitration is often used in conjunction with mediation when an issue arises in mediation that can not be resolved through negotiation.
How Does the Arbitration Process Work?
If you have decided on arbitration as the best process for your divorce proceedings, the first step would be to research divorce arbitrators in your area: by doing a quick search on the internet for divorce arbitration in Sugar Land, TX, for example. One of the pros of arbitration is choosing the Arbitrator that you feel is right for your case.
Once you have an Arbitrator, arbitration proceeds much like an informal court hearing would. The divorcing couple, their respective attorneys, and the Arbitrator meet, present the issue that is preventing them from resolving the issue, and answer any questions the Arbitrator has. The Arbitrator will then render a decision, which will be presented as a court order. Once an order from an Arbitrator has been rendered, it is final; no appeals can be made.
Benefits of Divorce Arbitration
The benefits of opting for arbitration are cost, privacy, speed, and convenience. In general, arbitration is a less expensive process than taking a dispute to court. This is true for a number of reasons, one of which is that arbitration is often a much faster process. Couples opting for arbitration have the flexibility of choosing the date and time for their hearing and don’t have to follow as many formal procedures as they would in a courtroom.
Privacy is another benefit of arbitration. Divorce is a sensitive time in most individuals’ lives, and the option to keep discussions limited to the couple, their attorneys, and an Arbitrator is a comfort for many. Finally, the arbitration process is less rigid and formal than a hearing. This informal setting can reduce tensions and make both parties feel more comfortable without sacrificing the integrity of the decision that ultimately gets made.
When Is Divorce Arbitration Not the Right Choice?
As previously mentioned, an Arbitrator’s order is final, and there is no process for appealing this decision. For some individuals, the risk of being stuck with an unfavorable ruling is uncomfortable, so they may feel better about opting to bring the case to court from the outset. Likewise, arbitration orders that are not abided by will have to go to court to be enforced, so some individuals may choose to just bring their case to court at the start of the process.
As you can see, there are a great many benefits to opting for divorce arbitration, but it is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution. Meeting with a divorce attorney is a great first to decide what the best options would be for your divorce proceedings and whether or not arbitration can be a useful tool.