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Family Law Arbitration Act

by Susan Yates
March 2015

Just Court ADR by Susan M. Yates,Jennifer Shack, Heather Scheiwe Kulp, and Jessica Glowinski.

Susan Yates

People who have been involved with family law are likely to have encountered mediation, especially in child-related issues. But what about arbitration?

The Uniform Law Commission is in the midst of drafting a Family Law Arbitration Act designed to provide a structure for arbitration of family law matters. The draft act provides many of the typical characteristics of arbitration that distinguish it from litigation. For example, parties will enter arbitration through an agreement to arbitrate; parties select and hire their arbitrator; arbitration proceedings and awards can be confidential; and arbitration awards are final, with very limited causes for appeal to a court. Family law arbitration differs from commercial arbitration in some key respects, such as greater opportunities for judicial review of awards determining child custody and support.

Family arbitration is quite dissimilar from family mediation. Most importantly, the arbitrator makes a decision that is binding on the parties, as compared to mediation, which is based on party self-determination. Family arbitration, as envisioned in the draft act, also differs greatly from court mediation, which is (with some exceptions) typically mandatory and limited to child-related issues. Family arbitration will be implemented only when the parties enter into an arbitration agreement, will be used in a much more limited number of cases than a court program, and may address a much wider array of issues.

This is not the first look at arbitration in the family law setting. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers drafted a Model Family Law Arbitration Act in 2005 and provides a list of arbitrators who have met their requirements. North Carolina has arguably the most comprehensive family law arbitration statutory scheme in the country, with other jurisdictions, such as Indiana and Michigan also providing for family law arbitration through statute. This is also not a uniquely American idea. For example, there is an English organization called the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators, which is related to the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, and there is Canadian law that provides for family law arbitration as well.

There are still many interesting issues to be decided. For example, at the March 2015 drafting committee meeting, there was discussion of how arbitration will relate to acts that are solely within the purview of the state, such as dissolution of a marriage.


Susan Yates has been Executive Director of Resolution Systems Institute (RSI) since 1997. In this role, she is responsible for implementing the organizational mission of improving the effectiveness of court-related alternative dispute resolution methods and for overall management of a national on-line Court ADR Resource Center, technical assistance to courts that are working to establish or improve their ADR programs, and monitoring and evaluation of court ADR programs.

As Executive Director, Ms. Yates assists state and federal courts throughout Illinois with their development of sound ADR programs. She uses her expertise and years of experience to help them navigate the complexities of program design, such as how to structure referral systems, how to deal with issues including confidentiality and neutrality, and how to ensure quality.


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