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Arbitration to be used in divorce cases
Fri 24 Feb 2012
Married couples who are getting a divorce could soon have the option of going through the arbitration process.
According to the Times, approximately 300 family lawyers and retired judges are to undergo training to handle cases in this way.
Sir Hugh Bennett, one former judge, is among those who will be arbitrating cases.
However, he told the newspaper it will be unable to happen without the consent of every party involved.
Indeed, Sir Hugh stressed that it "cannot be imposed, unlike litigation".
The changes could affect the media's ability to report on high-profile divorce cases, such as those involving celebrities who are parting company.
This is because the wealthiest couples can pay to keep the rulings confidential, which means details of their split do not have to be publicised.
Arbitration could also be used in other family law cases, such as disputes between unmarried couples, as well as over inheritances, property and financial provision for children.
Tim Snaith, a solicitor at Winckworth Sherwood, commented: "Arbitration is not a new concept and offers some significant advantages to court proceedings which are welcomed in family law matters. Such advantages include the ability for the parties to: set the timetable (including the times and places of the hearings); limit or extend the scope of the issues to be determined by the arbitrator; keep the proceedings confidential; and choose the arbitrator.
"However, despite its advantages, arbitration should not necessarily be regarded as a cheaper option, and in fact may well turn out to be more expensive in some cases. Furthermore, at present the current legislation does not allow parties to oust the jurisdiction of the court when dealing with financial and/or property issues on divorce or separation. As such, the parties would still have to apply to the court for an order in the terms of the award made by the arbitrator.
"As family law solicitors, we are always looking for sensible ways to resolve disputes for our clients. Arbitration offers just this, as does the Collaborative Process. It will not always be suitable for all cases but as the court lists continue to grow, other options are very welcome."