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Specialty tag(s): Divorce Arbitration, Divorce

How Does Arbitration Work in a Divorce? Understanding the Arbitration Process

Eric Robertson | November 9, 2023

Couple looking at papers with an attorney

Divorce involves dividing up assets and child custody between two people who already have a strained relationship, so it’s unsurprising that this process can be stressful and expensive for both parties, particularly if you have to take these matters to court. However, arbitration can be a great alternative to the traditional divorce process that can help you to settle things more quickly and cost-effectively. Texas law recognizes arbitration as an alternative method to resolve divorce cases outside of the courtroom. But how does arbitration in a divorce work?

How Does Arbitration Work in a Divorce?

Divorce arbitration works somewhat like a trial, but instead of going to a public courtroom whenever your case fits onto the court calendar, you’ll be able to resolve your case more quickly and in private.

When both parties decide to follow the process of arbitration for their divorce, they will need to start by choosing an arbitrator. Typically, an arbitrator is a lawyer or retired judge with expertise in family law matters such as complex property division or devising unique child custody agreements. When you hire a dedicated family law attorney to help you with your divorce arbitration, they can assist you in choosing an arbitrator.

After you hire an arbitrator, both parties must sign an arbitration agreement that lays out the rules for the process, what issues are at stake, when the arbitrator must make a decision, and how binding that decision will be. After this agreement is signed, arbitration can begin.

Arbitration plays out much like a typical court proceeding. Both sides will have their attorney present, and the attorneys will give opening and closing statements. Witnesses can be called to testify and be cross-examined in front of the arbitrator, and other evidence can be presented. Once both sides have made their case, the arbitrator makes a ruling.

If the original agreement stated that the decision is nonbinding, either party can object to the decision and opt to go to court instead. If the agreement dictates that the decision is binding, the outcome is final, and there’s no way to make an appeal.

How Does Arbitration Work Compared to Mediation?

Like arbitration, mediation is commonly used by couples who want to lessen the stress of divorce and avoid a trial. But there are a few key differences between divorce mediation and arbitration.

When you choose to use a mediator to settle disputes between you and your spouse, the mediator does not control the outcome. They do not decide how your case will be resolved: Instead, they help the couple resolve issues themselves. At the end of mediation, both parties must agree on a settlement for it to be made final.

The process of mediation is also different than how arbitration in a divorce works. Mediation relies on negotiation; it’s a collaborative process in which both parties work together to come to a mutually satisfactory conclusion. Arbitration procedures are more formal; arbitrators listen to facts and examine evidence given under oath and then render a decision. The result is decided by the arbitrator, similar to how a judge would rule on a decision.

Sometimes, divorcing spouses may use a mediator at first but find that they cannot come to a conclusion themselves. In situations like this, couples may decide that mediation isn’t working and opt to try arbitration instead.

Benefits and Risks of the Arbitration Process

One of the biggest advantages of arbitration is that it’s much more efficient than going to court, as you don’t have to wait for a time slot in the court’s calendar to open up. Because you’re not working around the court’s schedule, you can often get the process done in a matter of weeks instead of months. This fact also makes arbitration more cost-effective: Less time spent working out the details of your case with the court means fewer billable hours for attorneys and other experts, which can save money in the long run.

Another big advantage is that arbitration is private, while court records are public. If you’d rather be discreet about the details of your divorce, arbitration can be a good solution that protects your privacy.

The biggest disadvantage of arbitration is that if both couples agree that the outcome will be binding, there is no way to appeal the judgment; both parties must accept the arbitrator’s decision, even if they don’t like it.

If you’re looking for a divorce that’s less formal and more efficient than traditional family court, arbitration may be the right solution for you. At Goranson Bain Ausley, our attorneys and AAML-certified arbitrators can help you to resolve your case as quickly and painlessly as possible. Give us a call today to see how we can assist you.

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