The Children Arbitration Scheme has now been launched. This scheme provides couples who want to resolve disputes over their children without going to court, with the opportunity to have their matter dealt with by an arbitrator. The new Children Arbitration Scheme offers a flexible alternative to the court proceedings which often results in a quicker and cheaper solution. Before the launch arbitration was limited to dealing with financial matters.
Does the Children Arbitration Scheme cover all disputes involving children?
The scheme covers disputes between parents or others with parental responsibility over such issues as the time the children spend with each parent and where the children live. However, the scheme does not apply to a parent who wishes to remove the child/children from England or Wales. An arbitrator does not have the option of meeting with the children and discussing their wishes and feelings in the same way that a judge does. However an arbitrator can agree to have an independent social worker appointed to establish a child’s wishes and feelings.
As with other applications to the court the welfare of the children is paramount. Arbitrators are trained to be aware of potential safeguarding issues and to make sure decisions are made in the child’s best interests. Whilst the scheme has only just been launched arbitration has the support of senior members of the judiciary and the president of the court’s family division.
What happens during the arbitration process?
Either person with parental responsibility can apply directly for arbitration. Likewise, either person’s solicitor can apply to an arbitrator on their behalf. An arbitrator is then appointed to settle the issues between the parties and produce a solution which is legally binding. Just like a judge in the court process, the decision an arbitrator makes will be imposed on the parties involved even if they do not completely agree with it.
Once appointed, an initial meeting takes place between the parties and the arbitrator. This sets out to highlight any outside information required and to start to progress the case.
Following the first meeting a hearing is held. This hearing isn’t as formal as the court process and can be scheduled at a time which suits both parties. During the hearing each party sets out their case and provides any evidence.
At the end of the hearing, the arbitrator will make their decision and present this to the parties. This decision is known as an arbitration award and legally binds both parties.
As arbitration is more flexible than the court process and can provide results more quickly. This often means it is a cheaper process. The couple meet the fees of the arbitrator and may have to pay for any independent social works (if appointed).
Another benefit of the Children Arbitration Scheme is when decisions are needed urgently. Often we find that parents can’t make a decision between themselves on matters such as children going on holiday. In these cases, an early arbitration can be arranged to resolve these matters at short notice.