Divorce arbitration is the next tier down the scale, and the last option before taking the case to court. It’s much different than either mediation or collaborative divorce, but still has some advantages over courtroom litigation.

What is divorce arbitration?

When couples are unable to work out their differences but still want to avoid the hassle of taking the case to court, they may choose to have an independent arbitrator decide these issues for them. Arbitration usually emerges out of collaborative divorce when couples have reached a standstill and aren’t able to come to a compromise.

Arbitrators may be asked to rule on the entire case, or they may simply make decisions in areas you can’t resolve, such as child custody or housing issues. If you’ve come to an agreement on 8 other factors, but can’t agree on the last two, you will submit this agreement to the arbitrator, and like a judge, he or she is not going to stir the pot of issues already settled. It may even be possible to set forth guidelines that the arbitrator should follow in making her decisions. Usually each party agrees to a particular arbitrator chosen from a list; other states may require each party to submit a list, and then a judge chooses.

The arbitration process

Once an arbitrator is chosen, a date will be set for the arbitration. Both you and your lawyer will get together with your ex and his lawyer in a big conference room. Each of you will make your case in front of the arbitrator, just as if you were arguing your case to a judge in a courtroom. The arbitrator listens to both sides and will ask questions, consider the case, and then issue a decision. This usually doesn’t come on the same day; you’ll leave the conference room and then will be informed of the decision via certified mail. Once the arbitrator issues his or her decision, the divorce is finalized.

What are the qualifications of divorce arbitrators?

Divorce arbitrators are like mediators in that they are not required to be lawyers, yet the vast majority of divorce arbitrators are either matrimonial lawyers or former judges who are familiar with divorce law.

The benefits of divorce arbitration

Because arbitration settles issues without involving the courts, it still keeps details of the divorce private. Essentially, it’s like a court decision without the court.

The drawbacks of divorce arbitration

Decisions made by the arbitrator cannot be appealed, so you’re stuck with their rulings, for better or worse. You’ll have to decide how much this inflexibility matters to you. If you go to court and lose, the chances of a successful appeal aren’t real high anyway, usually no more than 5% at best, but at least you have one more option to try. You’ll have to decide whether this small benefit is worth taking the case to court.

Other considerations:

The divorce arbitrator is not paid by the state, so you’ll have to decide how to pay for the arbitration between you. It’s an additional cost on top of lawyer costs.