June 07, 2017 Articles

Arbitration as a Tool for Family Law Dispute Resolution

By Barbara A. Atwood and Linda D. Elrod

In 2016, after a three-year drafting process, the Uniform Law Commission gave final approval to the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act (UFLAA). Arbitration, along with mediation and collaborative law, has become an accepted form of dispute resolution for divorcing and separating couples. While family law arbitration has been practiced for several decades, many states only had statutes dealing with commercial arbitration. In 2005, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers promulgated a Model Family Law Arbitration Act (AAML). Although no state enacted it, the AAML regularly offers training and certification for family law arbitrators. In the past decade, several states have enacted new family law arbitration statutes or court rules.

While arbitration, mediation, and collaborative law are all voluntary processes that offer an alternative to traditional litigation, arbitration is the only dispute resolution method that involves a third-party decision maker. The parties contract with an individual, often an experienced family law attorney or retired judge, to decide all or part of the parties’ disputes. The arbitrator typically oversees discovery, hears testimony, examines evidence, and reaches a decision (called an “award”), and confirmation by a court is necessary for the award to be enforceable. If a party is dissatisfied with the award, relief in court is available, but the grounds for vacating an award are limited. Below is a summary of the UFLAA’s main features, along with an exploration into the pluses and minuses of this increasingly popular method of resolving family disputes.

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