What Do I Need to Know About Divorce Arbitration?

During a divorce, are financial issues that will need to be resolved, as well as complex custody issues if the couple has children. If the divorce becomes contentious and the couple has a difficult time resolving their issues, the divorce negotiations may need to be settled in court. This can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Couples who wish to avoid the stress may want to consider divorce arbitration. This is an effective method of dispute resolution that offers couples more control over the process and the outcome of the divorce.

In divorce arbitration, the proceedings are heard by a neutral, court-appointed arbitrator in a private hearing. Oftentimes, arbitrators are retired lawyers or judges who have experience in matters related to family law and divorce. Once an arbitrator has been hired, both parties will sign an arbitration agreement which will present the rules that both parties must follow, the issues that the arbitrator will address, when the arbitrator must come to a decision, and whether or not the decision will be binding. The issues that are arbitrated during a divorce include alimony, disposition of the marital home, pension issues, parenting time, child support, and more.

After the arbitration agreement has been signed, the case will proceed in much the same way as a traditional trial divorce. Both sides provide opening and closing statements and present evidence. The lawyers representing each party will call witnesses and cross-examine in front of the arbitrator. Once both sides have presented their case, the arbitrator will thoroughly review the evidence and issue a decision. The arbitration decision is binding, which means that both parties must accept the decision and may not appeal or bring the case to court.

What Are the Benefits of Divorce Arbitration?

There are a number of factors that make arbitration an appealing process to couples who are divorcing. First, the process is much more efficient compared to a traditional divorce where the parties involved are at the mercy of the court’s busy schedule. In some cases, it can take years to resolve a traditional divorce. However, divorces that are handled through arbitration are often resolved within a matter of months.

The procedural rules are also much less formal compared to traditional courtroom litigation and disputes are often resolved much quicker by the arbitrator as opposed to a court judge. In addition, the arbitration process is conducted privately between the two parties and their lawyers, and none of the filings are public record. Arbitration is also much less stressful for children since the couple’s private disputes are not aired out publicly in court.

While both parties will have to pay lawyer and arbitrator fees, the arbitration process is generally much less expensive than a traditional divorce since it is much less time-consuming than a courtroom divorce. Another advantage of arbitration is that the arbitrator’s decision is final and non-appealable except under limited circumstances. While this may not appeal to all parties, many people appreciate the finality that it offers. Ultimately, arbitration may be the best option for couples who want to adhere to the divorce trial format without dealing with the formal rules or inefficiencies of family court.

What Is the Difference Between Arbitration and Mediation?

Arbitration and mediation are both viable options for couples who want to avoid expensive, time-consuming contentious litigation. They also both allow the parties involved to have more control over how the dispute is handled, and the outcome of the divorce. Oftentimes, couples try mediation first and will proceed to arbitration if they are unable to resolve their dispute on their own. However, there are some key differences between the two, including the following:

  • The process of dispute resolution is much different. During mediation, a neutral third party is hired to help negotiate a mutually commendable divorce resolution. A mediator works with both parties to find common ground rather than make a binding decision about the dispute. The arbitration process is much more formal than mediation. A neutral, court-appointed arbitrator is appointed to resolve the dispute. Once the arbitrator’s final decision has been made, the final ruling cannot be changed.
  • During the mediation process, the mediator works with both parties to facilitate the conflict resolution process. If one or both parties cannot reach an agreement, the mediator’s decision is non-binding and the couple can take the matter to court. If a couple uses arbitration, both parties are represented by a lawyer, and an arbitrator will hear the evidence presented by both sides and make a final decision that is binding.

Why Is Arbitration Preferred Over Litigation?

Under ideal circumstances, the divorce process goes smoothly and both parties are willing to work out their problems amicably and with as little conflict as possible. Only a small percentage of couples are able to accomplish this. However, that does not mean that the only option is enduring a hostile case in court. Arbitration is preferable to litigation for the following reasons:

  • Time is a factor. The arbitration process begins immediately, whereas the litigation involves waiting for a court date which could take months. In addition, both parties involved are able to schedule arbitration in a way that works with their schedule. In some cases, the meetings can take place on weekends or evenings if both parties work full time.
  • Flexibility is important. In addition to being able to start the process sooner and create a schedule that works for both parties, arbitration allows the couple to decide which issues are going to be argued in court. They can also set the rules, whereas in court, the couple must abide by the preset rules and procedures.
  • Cost is a factor. Arbitration is significantly less expensive than litigation, primarily due to the compressed schedule and the fact that less time is spent on the completion of discovery and trial.
  • Eager to finalize the divorce. Couples who are eager to get the divorce over with may want to pursue arbitration. Once a final resolution has been reached, there is no opportunity to appeal. This may appeal to both parties who are in a rush to finalize the divorce.
  • Privacy is important. If a couple’s divorce is litigated in court, court cases are almost always public record. Arbitration is held privately in conference rooms or other agreed upon locations and the records are closed. If privacy is a concern, litigation may be the best option.

How Does the Arbitration Appeal Process Work?

An arbitrator’s decision is legally binding, which means that the decision cannot be reversed. However, there are limited grounds for successfully reversing an arbitrator’s decision. To appeal the decision, a Notice of Appeal must be filed with the Superior Court Clerk in New Jersey following the arbitrator’s award. The Court will establish a briefing schedule and a hearing date for parties to appear and present their argument as to why the decision should be reversed or modified in some way. According to the New Jersey Arbitration Act, arbitration awards may be corrected or modified for the following reasons:

  • Figures were miscalculated.
  • The arbitrator made an award on an issue that was outside the scope of the arbitration.
  •  The award is so poorly written that further clarification is needed in order to enforce its provisions.

The grounds for appealing an arbitration award are very limited. The court may vacate the award under the following conditions:

  • Fraud or undue means by either party.
  • Bias or partiality by the arbitrator.
  • The arbitrator exceeded their powers.
  • The arbitrator refuses to postpone a hearing, or refuses to hear evidence that is relevant to the conflict, or behaves in a way that is prejudicial to the rights of either party.

How Do I Select an Arbitrator?

In most cases, an arbitrator is selected and agreed upon by both parties involved in the arbitration. While an arbitrator does not have to be a lawyer, it is highly recommended that they have been certified as a divorce arbitrator by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Both parties and their lawyers will select and agree upon an arbitrator.

Somerville Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Assist Clients With the Arbitration Process

If you are considering a divorce and want to settle your disputes privately and in a more cost-effective way, you may want to consider divorce arbitration. Our Somerville divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. will assist you with the arbitration process. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.