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Arbitration: Another Alternative to Court

Court is not the only option for divorcing couples. A common alternative to court is mediation, in which a neutral third party helps the couple reach their own agreement regarding division of property, child and spousal support, and custody. Another option is mediation's close cousin, arbitration. An arbitrator is sometimes described as a more informal trial conducted by a private judge. The parties actively try to persuade the arbitrator on their respective points, and in turn, the arbitrator offers a judgment.

In certain cases, the court may require that parties submit their issue to an arbitrator. In family law proceedings, however, most cases are exempt from judicially mandated arbitration. Instead, it is the parties who chose to use an arbitrator rather than a judge. When parties choose to arbitrate, they sign a contract that permits an arbitrator (rather than a judge) to hear their case, and to make a binding judgment. Generally, the court confirms the arbitrator's decision. The court does not review the arbitrator's decision except where it is shown that the arbitrator engaged in misconduct.

How does arbitration differ from traditional courtroom litigation? Arbitrating parties determine the terms of their arbitration process by agreement, and can chose to eliminate certain rules and procedures that are required in a traditional court. This may allow for a more speedy resolution. Also, many of the details of the arbitrating parties' case are kept private, whereas court proceedings are open to the public. Who serves as an arbitrator? When parties contract to arbitrate, they may choose the arbitrator, who is usually a retired judge or experienced attorney. The arbitrator is generally paid by one or both of the parties, whereas a judge receives a salary from the State.

In many cases arbitration can indeed succeed and offer an expedient way to handle divorce. Talk to an experienced family law attorney about the option of arbitration. It may be the best solution for you.

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William A. Feinberg 1928 - 2001

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