Vaughan Divorce Lawyers Providing Representation in Family Arbitration
Family conflict is emotionally complex and can, in some situations, be exacerbated by the court process. The family law process offers various approaches to resolve family disputes as efficiently and amicably as possible, including family arbitration. Arbitration can be helpful when a separated couple cannot resolve their disputes through negotiation or mediation but prefer a more flexible and private process than litigation.
The seasoned lawyers at GDH Family Law understand the formality and public nature of litigation is not appropriate for all family conflicts. Our extensive experience allows us to create tailored legal strategies that best represent your interests in various dispute resolution matters, including family arbitration.
What is Family Arbitration?
Family arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution process. Both the federal Divorce Act (which applies only to married couples) and Ontario’s Family Law Act require parties to try to resolve their family law disputes through alternative dispute resolution (including negotiation). Spouses do not have to explore alternative dispute resolution where it would be inappropriate to do so, such as in cases involving family violence or an unhealthy power imbalance between the parties.
An arbitration is presided over by a private, impartial decision-maker. Arbitrators receive special training to determine family law disputes and are often senior legal professionals, such as experienced family lawyers or retired judges. Other non-legal professionals can become arbitrators, including financial experts and social workers.
As with a trial, the arbitrator hears evidence and submissions from both parties and makes a binding decision. The parties may provide evidence relating to their finances, the needs of their children, the parties’ ability to care for the children, and any other information relevant to the issues in dispute.
The parties are responsible for the costs of the arbitration, which may include the arbitrator’s fees, costs for a hearing space rental or court reporter, etc. The costs can be split between the parties by their own agreement or apportioned by the arbitrator after the hearing.
Both parties must have independent legal advice before agreeing to proceed with arbitration. It is also advisable to have a lawyer throughout the process to ensure your interests and entitlements remain protected.
Benefits of Arbitration
Arbitration can be an attractive option for families who prefer to resolve their family law matter as privately as possible. Unlike many trials, arbitrations are closed to the public and do not form part of the public record. The private nature of arbitration can be appealing for high-income or high-profile individuals or where a couple wishes to shelter their children from the acrimony of their separation.
The family arbitration process can also be more flexible and convenient than a trial. The parties decide where and when the arbitration will take place and are not subject to the delays present in the court process. Arbitration can also be conducted over video conferencing when parties cannot be in the same location. The flexibility of the arbitration process may help reduce the cost to the parties.
While the adaptable nature of arbitration makes it an ideal process for many families, it may not be appropriate where there are concerns of family violence or a power imbalance between the parties. Arbitrators are trained to recognize these dynamics and screen the parties for domestic violence concerns. They may also put safeguards into place to ensure the parties’ safety throughout the arbitration process.
Arbitration vs. Mediation
Arbitration may sometimes be confused with mediation, another alternative dispute resolution process available in family law matters. Both methods involve an independent third party – a mediator or an arbitrator – and both processes occur outside of the family court process.
In mediation, the mediator helps separated spouses resolve their legal issues. The mediator keeps communications respectful and assists the parties in exploring possible solutions. The outcome of mediation is an agreement between the parties, which each party’s legal counsel must review before it is signed. Mediators – unlike arbitrators – do not have the power to make a binding decision on any issues.
By contrast, family arbitration is closer to a trial than mediation. Arbitration is a less formal, more flexible hearing process controlled by the parties and scheduled for their convenience. The arbitrator acts as a judge and renders a decision that binds both parties rather than helping them resolve their issues collaboratively.
Enforcement of an Arbitration Award
An arbitrator’s decision (called a “family arbitration award”) is as enforceable as a court order. If a spouse fails to comply, the other spouse may bring a motion to enforce the arbitrator’s decision in the Superior Court of Justice. If the parties do not yet have a family court file, they will need to file additional documentation before they can bring an enforcement motion.
Appealing the Arbitrator’s Decision
A family arbitration award can only be appealed on certain grounds, and usually only after obtaining leave (permission) from the court to appeal. One or both spouses may ask the court to set aside the arbitrator’s decision on the basis that the arbitrator did not meet all procedural requirements or failed to apply the law correctly. In some situations, the spouses can appeal if they agree the arbitrator misrepresented or misinterpreted the facts of their case.
The timeline for an appeal depends on the circumstances of the case and the type of arbitration award (for example, a temporary versus final award). It is advisable to consult with an experienced family lawyer to ensure you do not miss any court-mandated appeal deadlines.
Contact GDH Family Law in Vaughan for Assistance with Family Arbitration
GDH Family Law understands that personal problems require personal solutions. The process used to resolve your family dispute should take into account your family’s unique needs and reduce conflict as much as possible. Therefore, our team creates customized legal strategies that deliver results in your family arbitration process.
We offer unbundled, à la carte legal services as well as more comprehensive support options. Whether you only require a lawyer to represent you in family arbitration or prefer we handle your entire separation or divorce, we can help.
GDH Family Law is based in Vaughan and represents clients throughout the surrounding areas, including Maple, Concord, Woodbridge, Markham, Kleinburg, Richmond Hill, Nobleton, Toronto, Newmarket, Aurora, Brampton, Caledon, Mississauga, Etobicoke, North York, Thornhill, and King City. For a free initial consultation on your family law matter, call 416-535-6944 or reach out online.