Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution. The parties enter into an agreement under which they appoint a suitably qualified person (an ‘arbitrator’) to adjudicate a dispute and make award.

In 2012 the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) launched a scheme to enable family disputes to be resolved by arbitration. Arbitration is a scheme conducted under the arbitration rules which allows divorcing couples to agree on appointing their own arbitrator, or have one selected for them from its panel of approved arbitrators.

The scheme covers financial disputes arising from:

  • Divorce;
  • Claims on inheritance from a child, spouse etc;
  • Claims for child maintenance between unmarried couples;
  • Disputes about ownership of a property between cohabiting couples and civil partnership disputes.

Disputes will be resolved exclusively by applying the laws of England and Wales in the same way as the family courts.

IFLA developed the arbitration scheme to enable parties to resolve financial disputes more quickly, cheaply and in a more flexible and less formal setting than that of a court room. The flexibility and confidential nature of arbitration combined with the time and costs savings associated with it can make arbitration one of the best choices for some situations.

Why arbitration?

A specialist family arbitrator is appointed to settle the issues between the parties. Arbitration is a voluntary process but once it’s started, it will deliver an outcome that will bind both parties. The parties cannot be compelled to adopt this process. Rather than focus on helping the parties to reach an agreement the arbitrator imposes an outcome on the parties. The parties will be bound by the arbitrator’s decision even if it is one with which they disagree. Arbitration can have many advantages over the more traditional court focused methods of dispute resolution.

The arbitrator decides only the issues that the parties agree need to be resolved and will decide the procedure to settle those issues fairly and to avoid unnecessary delay or expense. The parties can choose to be represented at the arbitration meetings by a solicitor, a barrister or a friend but the process does not require this and in some cases one or both parties may decide to represent themselves.

The timing of arbitration can be tailored to suit the parties’ requirements unlike the court imposed timetable. Unlike the court process the parties will have the same arbitrator throughout for all the hearings. This means that the process can move forward in a more focused and therefore more economic way.


The flexible nature of arbitration can make it quicker, cheaper and a far less formal process than other methods of dispute resolution. Arbitrators will discuss and agree their fees prior to commencing the arbitration. Some cases may be suitable for a fixed price arrangement.

Arbitration is a private and confidential process. It is not open to the public or the press. This makes it particularly suitable for resolving sensitive or highly confidential matters.

Commencing the process

The process commences with the arbitrator providing written information to each party. A formal first meeting takes place and the parties and the arbitrator identify the information that is required to progress the case. Once this stage has been completed then a hearing is held at which evidence is provided and each party presents their case. The arbitrator will then deliver a final award which binds the parties. The involvement of existing professional advisers is very valuable to the process and invariably leads to a better process for clients.

A list of qualified family arbitrators and members of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators can be obtained by contacting:

email: [email protected]; tel: 01689 820272.

*IFLA Scheme is the result of collaboration between Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the Centre for Child & Family Law Arbitrators (CCFLRI), a not for profit company the members of which are CIArb, Resolution and the FLBA. CCFLR will have a representative on the Board. The IFLA is chaired by Lord Falconer.

For more information on arbitration, please contact our specialist Family Law team.