Arbitration is a private, confidential resolution process where parties submit their dispute to a third-party neutral who is called an arbitrator and is usually someone with specific legal training. The arbitrator acts essentially as the parties’ private judge, who listens to their positions and arguments, receives evidence and makes a decision, known as an award, which is final and binding and which is enforceable in the courts.

Although arbitration is often used for the resolution of consumer and employment disputes, where arbitration may be mandated by the terms of an employment or commercial contract; it is also used particularly in the context of international commercial transactions.

In British Columbia arbitration was seldom used in family law disputes, however, the introduction of the Family Law Act in 2013 refocused the spotlight on this dispute resolution option and has increased its use within our province.

Within family law, arbitration can be either voluntary or mandatory and is binding. Mandatory arbitration can come by way of a court order or from an agreement that the parties have voluntarily entered into, in which they agree to submit all existing or future disputes to arbitration, without necessarily knowing, specifically, what disputes will ever occur. There are limited rights of review and appeal of arbitration awards.

In this way, an arbitration is similar to the court process; though, it is usually faster, more flexible and less expensive than a court trial or hearing; and often less adversarial, which in family law matters can help to protect the relationship of the soon-to-be-ex-spouses and their families.