Private family law disputes involving children will soon be eligible for resolution through arbitration under a scheme set up by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA).

The scheme, which will run from July, will allow couples to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of parental responsibility and other private law issues about child welfare.

Previously, divorcing couples were able to resolve disputes relating only to finance or property through arbitration. The scheme will be run by the IFLA, a joint venture by the Family Law Bar Association, family lawyers’ group Resolution and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. 

Suzanne Kingston (pictured), a partner at Withers who has been helping develop the scheme, told the Gazette that its launch follows strong judicial support and encouragement for the use of arbitration in family cases.

In a judgment handed down in 2014, the president of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, approved an award made through arbitration. In his judgment he said: ‘There is no conceptual difference between the parties making an agreement and agreeing to give an arbitrator the power to make the decision for them.’

Kingston said: ‘We felt it was appropriate to launch the scheme now we have the critical mass in relation to the number of financial arbitrators.’ 

She said that the scheme would cover anything in relation to child arrangements, including internal relocations, with the potential of extending this to external relocations in Hague Convention countries.

She explained that the advantage of arbitration in this area is that it is speedier than the court system, and is completely confidential.

Tony Roe, a solicitor and family law arbitrator from Tony Roe Solicitors, said the confidential nature of arbitration means it is likely to appeal to high-profile individuals and those in the public eye with family law issues.

He added: ‘The existing scheme has already gained great momentum and positive comment among the judiciary. […] The new children scheme has been long awaited and is the logical next step for family arbitration.’

Rules for the scheme are now being finalised and a series of training events is in place for both existing financial arbitrators and practitioners who have substantial experience in children work.