by John S. Eory, Esq.

In the past, traditional fault divorce frequently turned into a messy situation. People fought, emotions flared, children suffered, and finances collapsed. As a child, you might have experienced your parents’ divorce. Now you’re the one facing a divorce. You want to avoid the drama, loss of control over life decisions, and potentially huge expense — while safeguarding your children’s wellbeing. Divorce Arbitration may be the solution.

Divorce Arbitration is an effective method of dispute resolution, recognized by the New Jersey Supreme Court as an alternative to conventional divorce litigation. Divorce Arbitration is a structured process, in some ways similar to a courtroom divorce. But, importantly, you retain much more control. You are powerless to alter the structure and schedule of a courtroom. You cannot choose the judge who hears your case. However, you can control the structure of your arbitration, the scheduling of sessions, and you can choose your arbitrator.

With Divorce Arbitration, the parties agree on the dates of the sessions and are not at the mercy of a court schedule. A typical courtroom divorce does not take place over consecutive days or weeks. In our overburdened court system, divorce cases are often heard in piecemeal blocks of time. So if your divorce case starts on June 1, it may be heard for a couple of hours and then adjourned to July 10, then heard for a few more hours, and adjourned again to September 25. This process can go on for weeks or months. Then, you wait for the judge’s decision.

Divorce Arbitration results in fewer work days lost to attend hearing dates and a speedier resolution overall. You can schedule arbitration sessions around your work schedule, family obligations, or your children’s schedules. Importantly, Divorce Arbitration can take place for continuous hours on consecutive days so it is often more efficient than courtroom divorce.

Divorce Arbitration may follow an unsuccessful mediation if the issues are too complicated in the parties’ eyes or their positions are too irreconcilable, and they are unable to reach a mediated agreement. In lieu of going to court, Divorce Arbitration may be a good alternative.

As a certified Divorce Arbitrator, I will answer some of the questions that people typically ask.

Question: What happens during Divorce Arbitration?

Answer: It is important to distinguish arbitration from mediation. Mediation involves a neutral third party who facilitates a resolution of the issues by the parties. Arbitration is more akin to litigation, but on an expedited basis and with more control. The case proceeds with witnesses testifying and documents submitted to the arbitrator consistent with the Rules of Evidence. At the conclusion of the hearing, the arbitrator advises the parties of the date of the decision, which generally will be within 30 days.

Question: How is the arbitration hearing structured?

Answer: The parties largely control the structure of the arbitration hearing. They decide whether to have a live reporter transcribe the testimony, or an audio-recording. They decide whether the Rules of Evidence will strictly govern the hearing or be relaxed. They decide who advances the arbitrator’s fee. They decide where the arbitration takes place and the dates and times.

Question: What types of issues may be arbitrated?

Answer: The parties and their attorneys determine the issues to be arbitrated in advance of the hearing, including related non-family law matters. Among other issues, the parties can choose to arbitrate equitable distribution, pensions, alimony, disposition of the marital home, custody, parenting time, and child support. In custody matters, the arbitrator’s decision is reviewable by the court.

Question: How do I choose an arbitrator?

Answer: My recommendation is to utilize a family law attorney who has been certified as a Divorce Arbitrator by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). An attorney with AAML certification will use his or her family law experience and knowledge to thoughtfully, thoroughly, and realistically decide the issues in your case. The selection of an arbitrator is critical as the arbitrator’s decision is generally binding — although the parties may agree to an appeal process before the hearing.

In summation, Divorce Arbitration offers an alternative to the “courthouse” experience, which can be time-consuming and difficult. Presenting your case to a certified Divorce Arbitrator is a more time-sensitive approach that thoroughly addresses the issues you choose to be arbitrated. Divorce Arbitration is in the best interest of children, who desire a return to a sense of normalcy in their everyday lives.

Given the severe backlog in the court system, and the difficulty obtaining hearing dates and timely decisions, more divorcing parties are turning to Divorce Arbitration.

If you are interested in pursuing Divorce Arbitration, or are curious about this alternative approach, please check this site for the dates of upcoming open-to-the-public Divorce Arbitration seminars at Stark and Stark’s New Jersey locations.

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