Last week I read a few news articles referring to Paul Hollywood, a judge from Channel 4’s the Great British Bake Off, and his estranged wife choosing to use family arbitration to resolve their financial issues following separation rather seeking a decision from the family court. So, what is arbitration and how does it work in family law?

In family arbitration the separated parties appoint an arbitrator, in other words a judge, who will make a award that will be final and binding between them, although as with a court order you can appeal that decision in certain circumstances. Family arbitration can cover any financial and property dispute or with most issues relating to children.  

In theory, family arbitration enables couples going through a family breakdown to resolve their disputes more quickly and in a more flexible and less formal setting than a courtroom. Furthermore, family arbitration is confidential and therefore cannot be observed and commented upon by the media, which is probably one reason why this process is so appealing to celebrities.

The same arbitrator will deal with all stages of the case from start to finish, which often is not possible in court proceedings. The couple can have a greater say who the arbitrator is, how the case is managed and, if needed, the venue where hearings take place. The flexibility and the fact that you will get a final decision much more quickly can make arbitration more cost-effective than the court process.

There will be cases where family arbitration will not be suitable, for example where one-party refuses to engage in the process or you need evidence from a third party. However, it is my view that if you require a decision to be made by a third party it will most likely be more suitable for that decision to be taken by an arbitrator rather than a judge.  

By Marc Etherington (Senior Associate & Collaborative Lawyer at our London office)