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Arbitration: A Silver Lining to Covid Court Delays

Covid backlogs continue in the Connecticut Family Courts.  Absent an emergency, it can still be months before more routine custody and parenting issues are addressed by the Court.  Across nearly all judicial districts new divorce and custody filings are presently being calendared for the Fall of 2022.  That said, there is a silver lining in the form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”).  In the matrimonial field, there is an important new addition on the ADR frontier.

Following the passage of Public Act No. 21-104 §§ 21 and 53, effective October 1, 2021, parties may now arbitrate all issues in a divorce, including custody, parenting, and child support.  This includes both pendente lite (pre-judgment), trial, and post-judgment matters.

Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution with several advantages over traditional litigation.  In addition to resolving issues more quickly, arbitration provides parties the opportunity to choose the arbitrator.  The arbitrator is a neutral decision-maker who holds “hearings” where the parties present their cases, including the submission of evidence.  The arbitrator works with the parties to schedule sessions at the mutual convenience of the parties, which can be a major advantage from having to accommodate a Court calendar.  The arbitrator’s decision must be issued within thirty days of the final session.  Whereas, in a Court trial, a Judge has up to four months to issue a decision. 

There are some cautionary factors regarding arbitration:

  • The arbitrator’s decision is binding on the parties and is open to appeal in only very limited circumstances.  If you are not happy with the arbitrator’s decision, it will be extremely difficult for you to fight it. 
  • Arbitration decisions regarding child support must comply with the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines and all applicable Connecticut Statutes.
  • Arbitration awards must be confirmed by the Court to be enforceable.
  • Arbitration of these issues does not apply to parents that were never married.
  • The arbitrator is a DECISION MAKER and given the legal landscape involved in challenging a binding arbitration decision—from a practical point of view, it should be viewed as final as a contested trial.  The arbitrator is NOT a mediator.  If you and your spouse want someone to listen to your issues and help you resolve them, you should be seeking a mediator and not an arbitrator.
  • Both parties must agree to binding arbitration and the rules that will be applied during the process.

Overall, arbitration may be a quicker way to have tough issues decided so you, your spouse, and your children can get on with your lives.  When custody, parenting, or child support issues linger they can cause severe difficulties for children and parents, to the detriment of everyone.  

Arbitration may also be a less expensive way to resolve issues.  There are ongoing costs associated with a lingering litigation case that can easily last 12-18 months with the current judicial dockets.  With arbitration, this time can be cut in half—if both parties agree to arbitrate.

Whichever way you decide to proceed, it is always best to have multiple options.  If you and your spouse are unsure as to how to proceed, and cannot decide whether to go through arbitration or mediation, you should speak with an attorney who can help you make the most informed decision for YOU.

At McConnell Family Law Group, we can help you determine if arbitration, mediation, collaborative divorce, or litigation is the right process for your particular needs.  To learn more or to schedule an appointment with our office, contact us today by calling one of our offices located in Hartford (860) 467-1719, New Canaan (203) 344-7007 or by visiting www.mcconnellfamilylaw.com.  We also have offices in New Haven and East Lyme by appointment only and either of the above numbers will suffice.  For mediation you may also visit us at: www.connecticutdivorcemediation.com.  Find Peace Through Strength!

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