When it comes to getting divorced, the two things that most people are worried about are: how long will it take and how much will it cost? If you go through a “traditional” divorce, i.e. you go through the court system, chances are that your case will take longer and cost more than you ever dreamed.
It’s no secret that the court systems are overburdened with cases. Depending upon where you live, and how complicated your case is, it can take anywhere from six months to two years or more to get your case to trial. That means that for years, you and your spouse will be locked in limbo, going back and forth in court on motions, status calls, pretrial hearings etc., etc. While all of that is going on, your life is on hold and your bank account is bleeding money for attorneys, accountants, experts, and other divorce professionals. But, your divorce doesn’t have to go that way. Today, you have choices.
There are many ways you can work through your divorce. You can use mediation, negotiation, collaborative law, or “cooperative” law to resolve your case. All of those are alternative dispute resolution systems that minimize your time in court. What is newer in the world of family law dispute resolution is arbitration.
Arbitration is like a “mini trial.” But the arbitration hearing is usually less formal than a court trial. It usually takes place in the arbitrator’s office, not in open court. Each side presents witnesses and evidence. The arbitrator presides over the hearing much as a judge would preside over a trial. The arbitrator listens to all of the evidence and rules on any objections the lawyers might have. Then, after the hearing is over, the arbitrator decides the case and enters an award. That award then gets confirmed in court, and the case is resolved.
Why choose arbitration? There are lots of reasons.
So, if arbitration is so wonderful, why isn’t everyone using it? The main answer is: tradition. Even though arbitration has been used for hundreds of years to resolve other types of cases, it has not been used to resolve family law cases. And the law (and lawyers!) are nothing if not traditional. Arbitration also has a few other drawbacks you need to consider before you jump in:
Just like any other alternative dispute resolution method, arbitration isn’t appropriate for everyone, or for every case. It is, however, another option. It will keep you out of court, and can help you get your case resolved more quickly, more privately, and more economically.
Karen Covy is a lawyer, mediator, educator and the author of When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially, and Legally.