28 July 2016

The dawn of a new era for resolving disputes in relation to children

We have a lot to celebrate with the recent launch of the new Children Law Arbitration Scheme. Thanks to the introduction of this new form of dispute resolution, arbitration can be used in children cases to find fast, effective and flexible solutions.

Working with Jonathan Tecks and Janet Bazley QC, I have been proud to create the scheme, which specifically caters for family disputes in relation to children. We are confident that its success will mirror that of the Financial Scheme that has carried out over 100 arbitrations for families, in just four years of existence.

The scope of the scheme is wide, for example the arbitrator can determine where and with whom the child lives (unless relating to children living outside England and Wales) and issues in relation to the child's welfare such as schooling or routine medical treatments. In comparison to other alternatives to litigation, such as mediation, the outcome or arbitration is a legally binding award, which can be made into a court order if needed.

40 arbitrators have been trained to specialize in Children Law cases and he/she will deal with all stages of the case until a resolution is found.

The advantages of Children Arbitration are vast, but, crucially, include greater control over the process for the family, ensured confidentiality and greater choice in terms of venue, timetable and choice of arbitrator. In addition, it's been written with the interests of the children at its center. It has been carefully created to ensure that arbitrators are aware of any potential safeguarding issues and the safety of the children involved is protected.

Unlike a Judge in court, an arbitrator will not meet or interview the relevant child. Instead an independent social worker, who can be appointed by the arbitrator or agreed between the parties, will be instructed. The independent social worker will then inform the arbitrator of the child's wishes and feelings.

In any family litigation, parties and their representatives are likely to want to avoid delay – the longer that matters remain unresolved, the more unsettling and also costly it can be as interim measures need to be put in place and any changes must be disclosed to the other side. However, avoiding delay is often fundamental when it comes to disputes concerning children – the number of months it may take for an application to be heard in the court system becomes all the more significant in the context of a child's young age. Arbitration is quicker than litigation as the parties are able to take control of the timetable. That is why it is so important that there is now an opportunity to use arbitration for children issues.

It is particularly pertinent that the Scheme is being launched at the beginning of the Summer holidays. This can be an especially fraught time for separating couples trying to divide up the holiday between them, or where there are disputes that they need to be resolved before the start of a new school year.

Disputes in relation to children are difficult for all involved, especially the children. I am hopeful that this new Scheme will help parents to find solutions quickly and effectively to enable them to parent together in the future.

If you're interested in finding out more on how Children Arbitration will positively change the outlook for children disputes, click here to read an article I have written for The Times Law.

Suzanne Kingston is an accredited arbitrator in financial and children cases.

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