If you are looking to file for divorce but would rather avoid going to court, you have several solutions available. If you and your spouse already agree on all matters regarding your marriage dissolution, you can opt for an uncontested divorce. If you find communicating with your spouse challenging but both of you are willing to settle things outside of court, you can either pursue mediation or arbitration.
Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution that offers both parties to bring their goals and evidence supporting them to a neutral and independent third party called the arbitrator. This person thoroughly reviews all documents and talks with both spouses before deciding on a solution also known as the award. In Texas, your prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can include an arbitration provision.
What arbitration can address includes:
This is a voluntary process that both spouses must willingly agree to enter into. As with any type of divorce, hiring a specialized attorney is important to ensure your rights and assets remain protected. If you are unsure which option to pursue, a lawyer can help you determine which one meets your specific needs.
How Is Arbitration Different from Mediation?
Mediation involves talking to your spouse with the assistance of a neutral and independent third party who acts as a mediator. You do not have to be in the same room as your spouse. In arbitration, both spouses and their arbitrator are in the same room.
The level of formality in arbitration depends on the couple’s wishes, although it is generally similar to a court hearing. However, you get to select your arbitrator. Both spouses can make their case before the arbitrator, often with legal representation. Contrary to a mediator, an arbitrator has the power to decide on specific issues if the couple agrees to this option ahead of time.
What Is the Arbitration Process?
The arbitration process may begin one of these three ways:
- A spouse files a Demand for Arbitration to an arbitrator, which then requires the other spouse to accept or file a counterclaim
- Both spouses submit a Submission to Dispute Resolution to the arbitrator
- A court requests a mandatory arbitration before agreeing to hear a specific case
Once the arbitration process begins, both spouses must agree on who will be the arbitrator. During the initial meeting, both parties review the potential issues of conflict and can also address practical points about witnesses to call and documents to provide.
The arbitrator can legally ensure that both parties disclose all necessary information throughout the process.
During the hearings, which happen outside of the courtroom, each spouse presents their case and evidence to the arbitrator. During the arbitration, the couple may choose to hold a post-hearing submission to provide additional evidence. Afterward, the arbitrator makes their decision and issues the award.
Is Arbitration Legally Binding?
Arbitration awards may be legally binding or not depending on the couple’s decision. If you choose awards that are not legally binding, you have the option to keep the agreement between you and your spouse as is or take your case to court for litigation.
If you opt for legally binding awards and the other spouse does not follow through, you need to go to court to get a judge to enforce the decision.
Contrary to court decisions, disputing a legally binding award that you gained through arbitration is more difficult. To get a judge to overturn an arbitration decision, you must prove that the process involved corruption, fraud, or undue influence, including in the arbitrator’s case.
Benefits of Divorce Arbitration
Although there are some limitations to arbitration, this legal option offers a broad range of benefits that could suit your specific situation.
In arbitration, a divorcing couple can:
- Choose the arbitrator who will work on their case
- Select the time and place of their hearing
- Reach a divorce ruling faster than when going to litigation
- Determine which issues they want the arbitrator to address
- Keep your case private
- Minimize legal expenses
Arbitration may also alleviate some of the stress associated with going through a divorce. No matter your reasons to choose arbitration, hiring an experienced family law attorney is an important part of the process. Even if arbitration allows you to avoid going to court, legal counsel can help ensure you receive a fair award.
Are you looking for a trusted family law attorney in Houston? Contact Cynthia Tracy, Attorney at Law, P.C., today at (281) 612-5443 to schedule a consultation!