Disputes about where children of separated parents should live or how much time they spend with each parent could be resolved away from the daunting surroundings of a courtroom.

The Family Law Arbitration Scheme, which began in 2012 to deal with financial matters, is to be extended to disputes concerning parental responsibility.

The scheme was set up by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA), a not-for-profit organisation created by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Family Law Bar Association and family lawyers’ group Resolution, in association with the Centre for Child and Family Law Reform.

IFLA chair Lord Falconer of Thoroton (pictured), former shadow justice secretary, said the scheme would enable couples to resolve disputes ‘more quickly, cheaply and in a more flexible, less formal setting than a courtroom’.

The scheme will also guarantee confidentiality. ‘These are all important ingredients to minimising conflict and supporting the best interests of children,’ Falconer said.

Family court judges have the power to adjourn court proceedings for the parties to resolve a dispute through arbitration. With the court’s approval, the arbitration award can then be made into an order in those proceedings.

At a time when the courts are under significant pressures, Falconer said the availability of arbitration for children matters ‘builds on the long and proud tradition arbitration has in other areas, and gives parents and practitioners another tool with which to resolve family disputes’.