New scheme to resolve family disputes via arbitration launches after decade of lobbying

Family law disputes related to finance and property can now be resolved out of the court system

Family disputes can now be resolved through arbitration, thanks to a new scheme launched this week that aims to help families deal with legal issues outside of the courts.

The scheme, set up by the recently-formed Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA), will handle certain family law disputes relating to finance or property with arbitration for the first time, after years of lobbying from lawyers.

The new venture, which has been developed in association with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Family Law Bar Association and family lawyers’ group Resolution, will allow claimants to appoint their own arbitrator from a panel of family lawyers trained as arbitrators under the scheme.

Claims that can now be dealt with using arbitration will include financial disputes arising from divorce, claims on inheritance from a child or spouse, claims for child maintenance, disputes about ownership of property between co-habiting couples and civil partnership financial claims.

The scheme was soft launched last month and formally went live on Monday (26 March).

Withers family partner Suzanne Kingston (pictured), who is on the panel of arbitrators, said: “Family lawyers have been lobbying for this move for around a decade now. Allowing people to resolve these issues through arbitration means that they can be resolved quickly, potentially more cheaply and confidentially, which is not only a benefit to those individuals involved, but helps alleviate the problem we have with the backlog of court cases building up in this country.

“This is also in keeping with other moves the Government has made in recent times concerning mediation, as we look to help people resolve their disputes outside court.”

The news comes as part of a push by the Government and the legal profession to encourage disputes to be resolved outside the courts, amid wider cost-cutting efforts.

Divorcing couples are now required to attend a mediation awareness session before going to court under protocols outlined by the Ministry of Justice that came into effect from April 2011, in an effort to remove the backlog of cases and reduce court costs.

Mills & Reeve family partner Roger Bamber said: “This has come at a time when clients are turning to other ways of resolving disputes and is in line with the rise in mediation and collaborative law. The recession has seen a sea change, and arbitration will make a greater impact as a result.

“I do not think arbitration will be extended beyond financial and property issues for the time being, though there may be developments into mediation/arbitration at some point in the future, as is the case in Canada.”

The launch of the new service comes after Mishcon de Reya teamed up with etiquette experts Debrett’s earlier this year to produce a guide to separation and divorce covering behavioural aspects as well as the legal process in an effort to “promote civility upon separation”.

Family disputes that can now be arbitrated

  • Financial disputes arising from divorce
  • Claims on inheritance from a child or spouse  
  • Financial claims made in England and Wales after a divorce abroad
  • Claims for child maintenance between unmarried parents
  • Property ownership disputes between co-habiting couples
  • Civil partnership financial claims