By nature, divorce can be, at best, a difficult and expensive process. From the inherent emotionality of child custody and relocation, to the complexities associated with the distribution of assets and spousal support, the legal costs of dissolving the marriage can leave each party with a fraction of the marital estate they created. Litigation costs for divorce can spiral and balloon, leaving parents no choice but to tap into the college funds intended for their children’s education, unexpectedly burdening children. Factor in time delays and the bureaucracy of the court system itself, the prospect can rapidly escalate from intimidating to outright daunting. Fortunately, less intimidating, less expensive, and less time-consuming dispute resolution options are rapidly integrating into the mainstay of family law. Alternatives for “going to court” exist. Utilizing them can reduce costs, time, and family friction and preserve the marital estate for the post-divorce phase of life. This blog post will focus on the Arbitration alternative to court.
Arbitration is an alternative to the court system for litigants who are not able to resolve their conflicts by agreement. The parties will select an agreed-upon arbitrator who will provide an expedited proceeding during which she will hear all the evidence and testimony and make a final decision resolving all disputes.
Arbitration is the most traditional form of private dispute resolution. Unlike mediation, arbitration is adversarial and adjudicatory. This means that the arbitrator renders a decision at the end of the hearing. Usually, this decision, called an Arbitration Award, is submitted within 30 days of the hearing and is legally binding, subject only to a very limited court review.
The arbitrator is a neutral with expertise in the family law arena who has the authority pursuant to the agreement to arbitrate to act like a judge in making a determination of the disputed issues. The arbitration process is more flexible than the court system in that hearings are scheduled when mutually convenient to the parties, counsel, and arbitrator.
The arbitration hearing will often take place in a private office setting with the conveniences of parking, coffee, and private conference room(s). Confidentiality is ensured because the public does not have access to the filings or the hearing. Relief can be immediate because the arbitrator can make interim decisions (sale of a property; preservation of a bank account) after conference call or written submission from counsel. There is no need to wait for a court listing or formal trial in the courthouse.
The arbitration process is convenient for the parties and counsel, which saves the parties, ultimately. Arbitration affords the parties the ability to control the process and ensure the decision is made by a qualified expert on a timely basis. However, the parties give up their rights of appeal.
Although a third lawyer, the arbitrator, must be paid, the process will be less costly than going to court due to the efficiencies involved, such as no waiting for your case to be called or interruptions resulting from other matters scheduled before the master/judge; petitions need not be formally prepared or filed as interim issues can be submitted to the arbitrator via email or letter and heard via conference call or video conference.
The arbitration hearing is much faster and more time-efficient than formal, trial proceedings, which are prolonged by the technicalities of admitting exhibits, certifying experts, and meeting the needs of a court stenographer. For example, what would take three days at trial may be completed in only one day in an arbitration setting.
Efficiency results in significant cost savings despite the additional costs of the arbitrator.
Disputes among separating or divorcing couples are inevitable. However, relying upon the court system for resolution of these disputes brings with it other problems; namely, excessive costs due to the inherent inefficiencies of court processes. Clearly, as conflict increases, so does cost; but the family law landscape provides options to manage both. Parties can avail themselves of alternatives to “going to court,” as discussed previously, so long as spouses and their respective lawyers keep an open mind to creative solutions. Choosing an attorney who will embrace and encourage these alternatives can be as important as selecting the most appropriate process for the couple’s dynamic and finances. Divorce should not dissipate the marital estate. Fortunately, time- and cost-reducing options are available that can preserve the assets accumulated during the marriage and upon which the parties will need to rely after divorce.
This post is part of the blog series “Choosing Your Approach to Resolution”.
If you would like to explore your alternative resolution options, you should speak with an experienced West Chester attorney. At Potts, Shoemaker, and Grossman, LLC, our attorneys are prepared to assist you in finding the appropriate resolution approach for your individual situation. To schedule a confidential consultation, contact us at (610) 840-2626.
*This article is an excerpt from the article “Choosing Your Approach to Resolution” as published in Family Advocate, Volume 43, Number 1, Summer 2020 as written by Rochelle “Shelly” Grossman, Esquire.