Arbitration is very rarely used in the practice of family law. Why is that? There are pros and cons to the use of arbitration for family law cases. First off, it is important to know that arbitration is different from mediation. Yes, they both include an impartial expert, but arbitration is an alternative to going to the Court and waiting for scheduling to take place between the parties, the mediator, and the attorneys. Arbitration is FASTER. You could get an arbitrator scheduled within the week and the entire process/decision making must be completed thirty (30) days from when the initial meeting took place.
Another benefit of using an arbitrator is that there is a “secrecy bubble” in which your case is inside of. For example, when using mediation through the Court, documents are filed, dockets are updated, and some items are available to the public. In contrast, an arbitrator is able to keep certain items protected and private from court filings. Again, it is very rare to arbitrate a family law case, but I dare say it never has occurred.
What is the down side then you ask? The COST. Clients would be required to pay not only their own attorney, but also a professional, Florida approved arbitrator. An arbitrator is much more costly than a Court mediator (roughly $2,000.00 or more). You may not even be able to select the arbitrator you want. A Court mediator can range from $60.00 for a three hour mediation (court-provided mediation) to $400.00 per hour with a minimum two hour commitment.
Arbitration is more commonly used by large corporations who don’t want a public display of litigation and can afford the arbitrators or panel of arbitrators more easily. For example, Uber frequently uses arbitrators. Uber is sued quite often, but we do not hear about most of their cases because in the fine print of the Terms and Conditions that we agree to when we sign up for the app, we agree that any suit filed will go to arbitration before all else.
Some counties in Florida are dabbling with a Mediation-Arbitration hybrid. In this situation, the case starts with a mediation. Mediation would allow the parties to see if they could resolve the matter on their own with a mediator. A mediator is a neutral party that assist the parties in making their own decision. If the mediation is unsuccessful, then it would be sent to arbitration. An arbitrator, on the other hand, would be a decision maker for your case and would reach an ultimate decision for the parties.
By Emily Schroll, Paralegal