An interview with Family Law Arbitrator Suzanne Kingston about a significant innovation to the world of Family Law:
Family law arbitration is a relatively new concept. The Financial Scheme was launched in April 2012 and since that time over 100 financial arbitrations have taken place. The scope of the Financial Scheme is wide and basically covers most financial applications that a Court would deal with as a consequence of the breakdown of a relationship. This means sorting out finances on divorce, resolving a cohabitation dispute and dealing with financial applications raised by unmarried parents. There are just a few topics which are not within scope and these are the divorce itself, bankruptcy or insolvency matters, welfare benefits and issues over the recognition of a foreign matter or divorce.
The Latest Innovation in the world of Family Law
The Children Scheme launched on 18 July 2016 and deals with issues in relation to children such as where a child should live, visiting arrangements and education issues. The issues which are not within the scope are applications to have a child returned to this country from another country, applications to remove a child from this country, any dispute relating to the authorisation of life changing or lift threatening medical treatment and any case where a party lacks capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
The time is ripe for family arbitration to become the ‘go to’ way of resolving family disputes.
There is huge pressure on Court resources and clients are looking around for other potential ways of dealing with their cases. The benefits of the Financial and Children Arbitration Schemes are clear. The parties can chose their own decision maker from a list of Accredited Arbitrators on the IFLA website.
- The arbitrator stays the same throughout the case unlike the Court proceedings where it is very rare to have a dedicated Judge to deal with your case.
- The arbitrator knows all of the facts and details of the case and has this information at their fingertips.
- The Court is currently moving towards an era of transparency and openness whereas confidentiality is a key concept in arbitration.
- Arbitration is more informal than the Court and one of the key concepts is party autonomy – the parties have their say and the arbitrator will listen to them!
- There are no set tracks in arbitration and so the case can be dealt with as quickly or slowly as the parties want.
- Although parties have to pay for the arbitrator, most arbitrators are charging relatively modest fixed fees and so the overall process is often cheaper than the Court process.
What cases are ideal for arbitration?
The sorts of cases that are ideal for arbitration are as follows:
- A relatively modest financial case where parties want to ensure that they have a quick and effective adjudication and expeditiously as possible.
- A big case involving celebrities where confidentiality is a key component.
- Once you have been to Court and seen how long the Court process can take and you know all of the papers are ready to go to the arbitrator, it can be a good idea then to suggest arbitration and get a listing for a hearing say within a month.
- A variation of maintenance application where historically in the Court context a great deal of information is sought but not actually required. Issues in relation to the children such as which school they should attend, who they should spend time with during the summer holidays and sorting out Christmas contact disputes.
The ‘Rolls Royce’ family law service without the price tag
Several of my clients have been through the arbitration process and commented how informal it is and how much more ‘user friendly’ than the Court process. They have been impressed by the ‘Rolls Royce’ service the arbitrator gave but for a much cheaper sum than you would think.
I have also acted as arbitrator and was able to deal with a complex financial case in a fraction of the time that the Court process would have taken. In addition, we had a couple of hearings leading up to the trial which were undertaken by Skype/conference call to suit the clients. We said that the hearing would start at 9.30am and indeed it did! Everyone kept to a sensible timetable and I promised that I would write my arbitral award within 28 days and delivered it well within that timeframe.
As well as professionals championing the arbitration schemes, the Judges in the Family Division have embraced arbitration and the President of the Family Division has provided encouragement and support in Judgments in several cases as well as issuing Practice Guidance in November 2015.
Suzanne Kingston is a family partner at Withers LLP. She is widely known for her expertise in all aspects of family work, in particular the resolution of complex financial issues for high net worth individuals. She is an accredited arbitrator in both children and financial arbitrations and has spearheaded the arbitration training for IFLA.