TWO family law experts have launched a virtual Arbitration Service for divorcing or separating parents to get legally binding decisions potentially remotely about their children rather than going through court.
Founders of the Westcountry legal service, Children in the Middle, family barrister, Elizabeth McCallum and Exeter-based barrister, Sarah Evans, have set-up the service to offer people quick decisions with the same enforceability as a court order.
Elizabeth says: “When there are disputes about children, such as how much time is spent with each parent, what their surname should be, or where they should go to school, arbitration is a legally binding, quicker, easier and cheaper alternative to court proceedings. It can be conducted remotely using the latest video conferencing methods and bypasses the current court waiting times that have grown due to the Coronavirus lockdown.
“Through our new Arbitration Service at Children in the Middle, we can schedule a hearing at relatively short notice, via Zoom, Skype or in person with current social distancing measures in place. Arbitration can be arranged faster than court hearings, especially during the current COVID-19 situation when there are backlogs of cases. With our new virtual service, people do not have to leave their homes if they are unable to do so or do not wish to. Any decision made through arbitration will be legally binding.”
Arbitration is a way for parents to get legally binding decisions about their children, rather than going through a potentially lengthy and expensive court process.
It is approved by the court and the service is part of the Children’s Arbitration Scheme, set-up by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators.
Children in the Middle’s arbitrator Sarah Evans is also a barrister in Exeter and part-time Judge.
She says: “If you want quick, clear, decisions about your children that have the same enforceability as a court order, then arbitration is for you.
“In court proceedings, typically, there are three hearings. These will take months to be heard and if parents cannot reach a final agreement, getting a decision about their children can take a long time and this could have a negative impact on the wellbeing of those involved.
“It usually only takes one hearing with arbitration to make a decision about straightforward issues, such as what time your child should spend with each parent, what your child’s surname should be, or where your child should attend school.
“We can also deal with more complex issues, such as whether a child should move home within the UK or abroad and these will usually take two hearings, but in close succession.
“Parents share equally the cost of the arbitration, which is a fraction of the cost of court proceedings. Court proceedings can take months, if not years. They will most likely also cost hundreds of pounds in court fees and thousands in lawyers’ fees.
“The benefits of arbitration are that it usually only takes one hearing and can be concluded from start to finish in weeks with the same result.
“If you don’t use lawyers that will be your only cost. The arbitrator’s fee is tailored to your needs or the type of case.”
Children in the Middle is keen to ensure people don’t get confused between mediation and arbitration. Mediation is about parents communicating, co-operating and finding an agreement.
Mediators cannot give legal advice. If parents manage to reach an agreement at the end of their mediation sessions, they will have a written agreement but neither parent is bound by it. Either parent can choose to withdraw from it. They will not have a court order.
However, Arbitrators go through strict training and vetting to qualify. After listening to both parents, the arbitrator makes a final decision about the care of their children. They also provide a written decision and draft court order, which is sent to the court and is legally binding.
Sarah, who has been a family law specialist for more than 30 years, adds: “All children’s arbitrators are experts in children law, many of whom already sit as part-time judges, as I do.
“You and your ex have to agree to use arbitration instead of court, but other than that the processes are very similar, except it is quicker and cheaper.
“You can use lawyers or represent yourselves. You present your case to the arbitrator either in a specially arranged meeting, like a court hearing, or via Zoom, Skype etc, and the arbitrator makes a decision about your child.
“An arbitrator has all the powers of a High Court Judge. The order is registered with the court via the arbitration process, which makes it as binding as a court order.”
For further details, please call Children in The Middle, please visit www.childreninthemiddle.co.uk.