Our Seattle Divorce Lawyers Explain the Arbitration Process for Family Law Conflicts
Arbitration represents another approach to settling your divorce case. Basically, arbitration means hiring a private judge. This does require the agreement of both sides, including the choice of who should be the arbitrator. Of course this also raises the question: what possible advantage is there to paying for a judge over getting one free from the state?
The Benefits of Arbitration for Your Divorce
One advantage of having an arbitrator (private judge) is that the parties have more flexibility to agree on how the arbitration is going to take place. They can streamline the process by agreeing on simplified evidence rules, such as allowing written statements from some witnesses rather than live testimony. Simplifying the rules may not be a good idea in every case or with every witness, but it allows the lawyers to make those choices where they both feel that it is a good idea. When the trial time can be shortened through these kinds of agreements, then the cost savings can be far larger than the cost of the arbitrator.
Arbitration can provide other kinds of increased flexibility as well. The sides can agree on when to hold the arbitration, rather than the trial taking place on the court’s schedule. This could mean having the trial much sooner, or at a time that is otherwise convenient to both sides. We can also agree on using any combination of in person, video, phone, or letter presentations.
At the time of this writing the courts have very limited capacity due to the COVID-19 crisis. This means that trials are being pushed out, and even motions are limited. Arbitration allows us to move forward on our own time scale rather than waiting to see when the courts may be able to hear us.
If the parties agree to use an arbitrator early in the case, an added advantage can be having the same person hearing both preliminary motions and the final trial. At court many motions are heard by a different department than the trial, and even the trial can be switched to a different judge at the last minute. Having the same person throughout means the arbitrator can be much more familiar with the ins and outs of the case and the parties by the time it gets to trial, rather than coming in cold.
What is Med-Arb?
Finally, a form of arbitration we sometimes like to use is called Med-Arb. In a Med-Arb we first meet for a mediation. At this point the eventual arbitrator is acting as the mediator instead. This gives the parties a chance to try and come to their own agreement, something they both can buy into. The mediator is there to help guide the conversation and give suggestions or guidance. Often the two sides are able to come to agreement. However, if they are not able to come to agreement on all points, then the mediator switches to being an arbitrator to make final decisions on any remaining issues. There can be further argument on those issues, though since the arbitrator is by that point familiar with the case from the mediation, we often agree to limit that argument to final statements by letter.
Explore Your Divorce Options with Seattle Divorce Services
If you would like to discuss the various options for your divorce including arbitration, litigation, mediation, or collaboration, call us at 206-784-3049 to schedule a consultation with one of our family law attorneys.