Remote access out of court dispute resolution: parenting disputes
It is important to be aware that applications to court are not the only means of dispute resolution.
The impact and considerable pressures the court system and judiciary have faced as a result of COVID-19 has caused an ongoing review and reappraisal as the court system considers how it can continue to best meet the needs of parents in parenting disputes. With many courts operating at lower capacity, there has been unavoidable delay.
However, it is important to be aware that applications to court are not the only means of dispute resolution. There are a number of other, non-court based, options to consider. For more detail about each option, please listen to our podcast.
Collaborative family law involves both parties engaging their own collaboratively trained solicitors. Both parents and their solicitors agree in writing not to go to court. All issues are discussed in four-way meetings, whether in person or remotely, as video conferencing, with breakout rooms, can be used.
Discussions in meetings are privileged and confidential and cannot be referred to should the process break down and a parent makes an application to court. As a result, this principle of collaborative law encourages more open communication between the parents which often leads to a swifter resolution.
Arbitration is the only private out of court form of dispute resolution which can provide an outcome if matters proceed on a contested basis. It is suited to cases where court proceedings have already started, as well as those in the early stages of a dispute.
It is a highly adaptable process where both parents work with their appointed arbitrator to manage the case. If agreement cannot be reached, the arbitrator will make the decision. Throughout the process you will have the same arbitrator.
Again, the arbitrator can work remotely, with the parties and their legal representatives, to allow for hearings via Skype, Zoom and so on.
Mediation is a confidential and impartial process. Together with your chosen mediator, the three of you set the pace. Topics for discussion and frequency of meetings will be agreed.
The mediator has a responsibility to try to help parents focus on what is best for the children. Mediation is not about relationship counselling, but helps you to try to reach an agreement on the arrangements for your children.
Again, since lockdown, mediators have been working creatively to continue to engage with clients remotely, including those mediators who work directly with both children and their parents.
Starting a non-court based option
All of the processes referred to above have been adapted by providers to work in a virtual environment. Once you have appointed your collaborative solicitor, arbitrator or mediator they will make all of the arrangements sending you the necessary links to get your meetings started.
Your solicitor can provide advice as to the most suitable form of dispute resolution for your case. They will assist you in preparing for each meeting and if appropriate help you to make the agreement legally binding by preparing a consent order for the court to approve.