John S. Weaver, Esquire
Of Counsel, Z Family Law, LLC
Rockville, Maryland Family Law Attorney
Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution process in which the two parties appear before one or more impartial arbitrators. Each side presents evidence and arguments in support of their respective positions, and the arbitrator renders in writing a reasoned award that—depending on the parties’ agreement—may or may not be binding. Recently, Arbitration has become a more appealing alternative dispute resolution process as the ongoing public health crisis has caused court closures and lengthy delays in resolution of family law matters. Remote hearings have become more prevalent.
John Weaver has arbitrated various family law disputes in Maryland. He gained extensive quasi-judicial experience hearing family law cases for six years as a full-time Family Division Magistrate in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. He is a trained arbitrator, having completed the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Family Law Arbitration Training and the ABA Commercial Law Arbitration Training.
The potential benefits of arbitration include: Joint selection of the arbitrator, who may have unique, desirable experience or expertise; completion in a shorter time period than contested court litigation; flexible scheduling not determined by crowded court dockets; agreed upon procedures and rules tailored to fit the parties’ situation; more client-friendly and comfortable setting than a formal courtroom; possibly more economical even though the arbitrator will be paid as opposed to a judge’s free services; the arbitrator possesses powers similar to a judge and applies pertinent state law; and private proceedings and nonpublic evidence. In addition to the option of being represented by their own retained counsel, both parties are able to present testimony and other evidence, obtain pretrial information, and subpoena witnesses to the hearing.
Among the family law disputes that may be appropriate for arbitration are the division of property rights, claims for alimony, and interpretation of agreements between the spouses. Sometimes parties pursue arbitration on limited issues such as the division of the household furniture and furnishings. Historically, binding arbitration has been problematic in child-related disputes due to public policy reasons, including the court’s parent-like role to intervene on behalf of a child needing protection and its responsibility to promote what they determine is in the best interest of the children. Some states do permit these issues to be submitted to binding arbitration, but others do not. Even where the arbitration of child custody, visitation, and child support matters is permitted, courts retain the ultimate authority over these matters, including over subsequent modification proceedings.
The National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws adopted the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act (UFLAA) in July 2016 and recommended it for enactment in all the states. This act would govern arbitration of family law disputes, but any state could exclude from arbitration any child-related issues. Judicial review of child-related dispute decisions is meant to determine whether the decision complies with state law and is in a child’s best interest. Court review of other arbitrated family law matters is more limited to circumstances regarding the authority to vacate an award.