Are Divorce Arbitration Decisions Legally Binding?

What Is Arbitration

Arbitration is an alternative form of dispute resolution (ADR) in which the parties in a divorce case can participate. When it comes to resolving divorce issues, arbitration is meant to prevent undue delay in establishing the rights and responsibilities of the parties concerning essential matters, including property division, child conservatorship, and family support obligations.

Texas law specifically recognizes arbitration as an alternative method of resolving divorce cases. Unlike more informal ADR methods, such as mediation or collaborative law, arbitration more closely mirrors the structure of court proceedings. However, arbitration proceedings are not bound by formal rules concerning court procedure, evidence, and the reliance on legal precedent.

The parties in an arbitration proceeding may be represented by counsel. During arbitration proceedings, the parties advocate for their respective positions and defend against claims made by the other party. A neutral party—known as the arbitrator—is responsible for making impartial factual findings and issuing a decision favoring one party over the other. This differs greatly from mediator, where the parties will work together with the mediator to come to an agreement.

Binding Arbitration

It is the policy of the State of Texas to promote an amicable and peaceful resolution through alternative dispute resolutions such as arbitration and mediation.

In a divorce case, the parties may enter into a written arbitration agreement where they agree to resolve their dispute before a neutral arbitrator and be bound to their decisions if the parties stipulate in advance that the award is binding and enforceable in the same manner as any other contract If the parties do not stipulate in advance that the award is binding, then the arbitration agreement will only serve as a basis for any future settlement negotiations. Unlike more informal ADR methods,, arbitration can result in a definitive outcome favoring one party over the other. Like other forms of ADR, a court must render its final judgment based on the terms of the arbitrator’s decision.

Upon entering a binding arbitration agreement, the court has the power to enforce the agreement’s terms. The nature of arbitration stems from its character as a binding contractual commitment between the parties allowing their case to be resolved outside of the public justice system.

The nature of an arbitration agreement also precludes the ability of the parties to object to the arbitrator’s participation in the case after they rendered a decision. Therefore, they are bound to the findings and terms that the arbitrator issues at the conclusion of proceedings.

Finality

Given the nature of a binding arbitration agreement, a court of law is required to affirm the award. A valid arbitration award carries the same legal effect as a court order. Furthermore, a valid arbitration agreement may have a provision where the parties waive their right to appeal the arbitrator’s decision. In such cases, parties may not re-litigate their dispute after the arbitrator reaches a final decision about their case. However, a court has the power to review the arbitrator’s decision and make an award regarding issues suggesting fraud, mistake, or misconduct on the part of the arbitrator.

Given the finality of their decisions, an arbitrator is ethically bound to disclose conflicts of interests that could impair their ability to act as an impartial trier of fact. Failure to disclose and address such conflicts may be grounds for vacating their decision and award.

Get Answers to Your Questions at Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers

Divorce litigation can be time consuming and expensive. Not only are the parties expected to pay court costs and filing fees, but they are possibly incurring significant attorney’s fees. To minimize the costs of conventional litigation, the parties in a divorce case can resort to alternative dispute resolution methods such as arbitration. To determine whether arbitration can benefit your case, you should consult an experienced attorney from Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers.

Please call us at (940) 293-2313 to schedule a case evaluation with one of our attorneys about your case today.

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