Divorce Arbitration In Fairfield County, Connecticut
Alternative process speeds decisions on contentious issues
The majority of individuals want to avoid trial if at all possible, and this is particularly true in divorce and other family law matters. Concerns for privacy and for protection of children’s interests can make the courtroom an unsuitable forum. Yet cooperative processes like mediation may not be effective where parties are far apart on important issues and unable to come to an agreement on all the issues. If your case requires a definitive, binding decision, arbitration may be your best option.
Arbitration is like litigation in that a third party, the arbitrator, will hear testimony and evidence from both sides and then make a binding decision. But critical differences between arbitration and litigation make it an attractive option for couples who value privacy and are motivated to resolve their issues expeditiously.
At Needle | Cuda, our family law attorneys are experienced in using this method. We know how to present evidence and arguments designed to achieve positive outcomes with a minimum of conflict. Our family law attorneys work closely with you throughout the arbitration process, providing steady counsel that affords you confidence and peace of mind.
How family law and divorce arbitration works in Connecticut
Arbitration is a method of dispute resolution used in a variety of civil law disputes. Unlike mediation, where a neutral third party helps parties reach compromises, arbitration resembles a private trial. Parties and their attorneys submit evidence and make arguments to an arbitrator, who acts as judge. Arbitrators are often judges who have retired from the bench, or may be other experienced lawyers. Choosing the right arbitrator can be very important to the process. Arbitration can occur only if both parties agree to the process; it cannot otherwise be required by the court.
What separates arbitration from mediation is that the arbitrator’s role is not to encourage compromise or settlements but rather to hear evidence and testimony and decide, like a judge.
The process of Arbitration takes place at an agreed-upon location, generally a conference room. At the close of the proceedings, the arbitrator rules on each issue presented for resolution. One of the benefits of arbitration is that it is usually more final than a decision in court, as there are greater limits on the ability to appeal an arbitrator’s decision. It is also a way to have a more confidential trial, without the issues playing out in open court.
Until recently, issues surrounding child custody and support could not be resolved through arbitration. Fortunately, the law in Connecticut has changed and now allows disputes concerning child custody and support to be addressed in arbitration. Some of the other divorce-related disputes that can be handled during arbitration include:
- Alimony — Either spouse’s entitlement to financial support during and after divorce or separation;
- Discovery — What documents and information each side is entitled to receive;
- Property division — How much of the marital estate each spouse receives after dissolution of a marriage;
- Business equity — What share each spouse may claim in a closely held business;
- Business valuation — How much a business is worth, which is relevant to how the asset is divided;
- Property valuation — How much real estate, fine art, automobiles, boats, jewelry and other high-priced assets of the spouses are worth;
- Intellectual property rights — Whether a spouse’s contributions confer an interest in copyright, trademark or trade secret ownership;
- Retirement savings rights — The percentage of 401(k), pension or other retirement assets that each spouse will receive;
Since most arbitration issues are financial, the parties must pledge full transparency. There should be an appropriate discovery process leading up to the arbitration. Each party should present their financial records, including tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, loan records, deeds and other documentation as evidence. Parties are also allowed to call witnesses, including expert witnesses on asset valuation and other economic measures.
Selecting The Right Arbitrator
Selecting a suitable arbitrator is crucial to making sure that the process goes smoothly and accomplishes the goals set forth by the parties. An arbitrator who will be fair and impartial is critical versus one who has displayed a bias toward a particular side. Experience will also be essential because an inexperienced arbitrator may not be familiar with some of the finer points and may overlook evidence that a seasoned arbitrator will examine more closely.
The arbitration itself will likely take place in a setting that is also agreed upon by the parties. They tend to be held in an office space or conference room. Privacy concerns are often a key reason many couples choose to undergo arbitration; the arbitration will not be open to the public and is strictly confidential. The arbitrator will be paid a fee, but that amount tends to be modest in comparison to the cost of a full-blown trial.
Arbitration Is Binding
It is important to understand that the parties can agree to enter arbitration to resolve only certain specific pre-determined issues; in other words, all divorce-related issues need not be addressed during the arbitration. Some can be resolved through negotiation, and others may be reserved for litigation. The key thing to understand about arbitration is that once the parties agree to enter it on a specific issue, the arbitrator’s decision will be binding. While evidence and testimony are allowed, the parties will not be able to reject the arbitrator’s findings. Similarly, the law restricts the parties’ ability to appeal an arbitrator’s decision, making it more difficult to challenge than the ruling of a trial court.
Needle | Cuda Leverages Arbitration To Resolve Specific Family Law Issues Within A Divorce
Like all other forms of dispute resolution, arbitration is not a zero-sum game. This means that arbitration can effectively be used to resolve specific family law issues while leaving the remaining ones to be handled through litigation or some other form of dispute resolution. At Needle | Cuda, we encourage our clients to explore all options when handling their divorce. Arbitration is just one of the tools we employ to help obtain satisfactory results. Because arbitration is confidential, it is best used to resolve issues requiring discretion, such as child custody.
A typical example of how we can use arbitration is when the parties are close to an agreement on child custody but are far apart regarding how the marital estate will be divided. In that scenario, arbitration may be used for the custody while the division of marital property reserved for litigation.
Additional Considerations in Divorce Arbitration
Before entering arbitration, the parties must be fully transparent. While discovery is possible in arbitration, couples beginning the arbitration process may be required to present their financial records, including tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, loan records, deeds, and other documentation as evidence. Individuals with significant assets may not be willing to disclose their complete financial picture fully. If that is the case, then arbitration may be limited in its ability to compel a party to produce such records.
The divorce arbitration lawyers at Needle | Cuda are ready to help you navigate the arbitration process while simultaneously equipping you with the information you’ll need to make the best decisions on moving forward with your divorce. We provide arbitration, mediation, and litigation representation to deliver positive results. To schedule a consultation, call us today at (203) 429-4151 or contact our Westport office online.
Contact our Westport, CT family law attorneys for family law and divorce arbitration services
If you are interested in seeking arbitration of a family law dispute in Fairfield County, Needle | Cuda is ready to help. We provide arbitration representation focused on delivering positive results. To reserve a consultation, call us today at 203-557-9500 or contact our Westport office online.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Family Law and Divorce Arbitration
Divorce arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution that must be agreed upon by the parties. An arbitrator will be selected by the Parties to hear evidence and testimony from both sides and make a binding decision, similar to a judge. Divorce arbitration is unique in that the parties get to select the arbitrator and the issues that will be decided. While arbitration generally centers around financial issues, the law now allows for child custody and support issues to also be decided in arbitration.
In divorce arbitration, the role of the arbitrator is similar to that of a judge. They do not offer legal advice, nor should they side with either party. Often, the arbitrator is a former judge or active family attorney trained in how to conduct an arbitration. They will hear evidence, ask questions, and decide on the agreed-upon issues. The arbitrator's decision is binding and may be difficult to appeal or challenge.
Arbitrations are conducted in a manner similar to a trial. Both parties can present evidence and argument. The arbitrator may also ask them questions. The parties are also allowed to have their respective lawyers present. It is important to note that the arbitration rules must be agreed upon by the parties before it begins, providing each side with the opportunity to include any special provision they deem appropriate or necessary. There are generally no surprises in arbitration as both parties have agreed to how it will be conducted before commencement.
The parties select a divorce arbitrator. Some arbitrators have reputations for being impartial and fair, while others may be viewed as less desirable for various reasons. Because most parties retain counsel throughout the arbitration process, the respective lawyers assist in selecting the arbitrator they believe will best preside over the matter. It is common for lawyers to have prior dealings with a particular arbitrator and select them based on that experience.
Arbitrators typically charge an hourly fee for their service. This can range from $200 to $1000 per hour. The length and duration of the arbitration session will depend on the complexity of the issues being decided. The more complex the issues, the longer the arbitration will take.
Before beginning arbitration, both sides must sign documents agreeing to the arbitration rules and how the arbitrator's fee will be handled. Parties are free to craft an arrangement however they please surrounding the issue of the arbitrator's fee. Typically, the parties will share the cost of hiring an arbitrator.
As with most components of arbitration, the parties must agree upon a location and the setting for where the arbitration will occur. In most instances, arbitrations are held in an office or conference room.
Many couples retain counsel for the duration of the arbitration process. This is especially helpful if the issues to be decided are complex or require eliciting expert testimony. Lawyers are also integral in selecting the arbitrator and determining the scope of the marital issues to be decided.
Essentially all forms of evidence are allowable in arbitration. Testimony, documents, financial records, business and asset valuation evidence, and other forms of physical evidence may all be presented at an arbitration hearing. However, it is important to note that parties generally resolve the evidentiary issues before arbitration begins. This means that the parties must agree beforehand on what type of evidence will be permitted and what purposes it can be used for.
Arbitration shares many features with litigation. These include the presentation of testimony and evidence. If you have hired an attorney to represent you, you may be asked to give testimony. If child custody is being decided, then there is a chance that the arbitrator may want to hear from you regarding childcare and your relationship with the children. While you may be able to refuse, that may create an adverse inference in the arbitrator's mind and produce a less than favorable outcome in your case.
As with any court-approved resolution method, the arbitrator's decision must conform to the laws of Connecticut. While it is difficult to challenge an arbitrator's decision, it does not become finalized until the court approves it. The court will likely reject a decision that is outside the bounds of the law. The arbitrator must carefully weigh the facts and evidence to decide. They can only consider what has been presented during the arbitration session. Any irrelevant facts, evidence, or influence shall not be considered.
One of the unique features of arbitration is that there are restrictions on appealing or challenging the arbitrator's decision. These restrictions are spelled out and agreed upon before embarking on an arbitration session. An arbitration clause of this nature can make it difficult to reverse the outcome of the arbitration. Parties who disagree with the arbitrator's decision will likely be unable to alter or dismiss the outcome.
Virtually all divorce-related issues can be decided through arbitration. While most arbitration sessions handle the financial aspects surrounding the dissolution of a marriage (like alimony, division of marital property, asset valuation, retirement savings, and business equity), Connecticut law now allows for issues concerning child support and custody to also be decided through arbitration. This recent development in the law now gives couples the ability to forego the entire traditional divorce paradigm in favor of alternative dispute resolution methods.
Generally, an arbitration will cost the parties less than a trial. Still, it is essential to remember that the arbitrator will charge an hourly fee. Most parties also retain private counsel for the arbitration sessions. Parties can expect to pay around $1,500 for the arbitrator's service plus their attorney's fee. There may also be costs and expenses associated with gathering evidence and investigating the finances and assets of the opposing party.
The main difference between arbitration and mediation is the finality of the decision. In other words, the arbitrator's decision is binding, while the outcome of mediation is not. The purpose of mediation is to reach an agreement on the issues. In arbitration, evidence and argument can be presented, and then the arbitrator will decide for the parties. The parties have no say in what the arbitrator decides and cannot disregard it if they are not happy with the outcome.
While similar, there are some critical differences between the two. Arbitration must be agreed upon, while litigation does not require agreement. In fact, not only must the parties agree to enter into arbitration, but they must also agree on how it will be conducted, where it will be held, the rules, and who the arbitrator will be. The arbitrator must also be paid according to an hourly rate. While evidence can be presented in arbitration, the rules of evidence are relaxed, and generally, the parties will agree beforehand on what kinds of evidence can be considered. The arbitrator will then make a binding decision that can only be appealed under limited circumstances.
A judge will preside over the matter and decide at a trial. The parties will not be able to select the judge or the location or time of their trial. Litigation also generally follows the rules of evidence, where the judge decides on what evidence can be admitted. Once the judge hears all evidence and argument, they will then decide. This decision can be appealed if it can be shown that there were errors in law or that the judge abused their discretion.
Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law
Divorce and Family Law Arbitration
Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law
830 Post Road East,Westport, CT,Lower Fairfield County Connecticut-06880,
Telephone No.(203) 557-9500
Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Wilton, Southport, Ridgefield, and Fairfield, Connecticut -- including the surrounding towns and communities.
Family Law and Divorce Arbitration explained. Arbitration can be used to address specific issues that could not be resolved through negotiation or an agreement with your spouse.