21st Jul 2016

Children arbitration – a real life case study

By Gillian Bishop

The new family law children arbitration scheme launched earlier this week. In this blog director Gillian Bishop who, along with her colleagues Felicity Shedden and James Pirrie, is a qualified children law arbitrator, examines a real life case study suitable for children arbitration.

“Angela and David had met at university and were in a relationship for five years. During that time they had twins, Guy and Gabriel, who are now aged ten. Angela and David split up when the twins were years old.

Angela and David had both studied law at university but their careers took very different paths. Living in Hertfordshire within commuting distance from London, Angela developed a very successful career working for one of the major City firms. David, a socialist at heart, has always worked in high street practices and set up his own criminal law practice which means he works long hours, including at weekends, for relatively little remuneration compared to Angela.

Angela is in a new relationship with an accountant from one of the Big Four accountancy firms and they plan to marry next year. They are already living together and talking about starting a family.

Angela and David have always remained on good terms and have successfully co-parented Guy and Gabriel who, as a result, are happy, well-adjusted children doing well at a local state primary school. Angela and David have been having discussions about secondary education for the boys. Angela is keen that the boys should be privately educated as she was. She also believes that, as she and David are both very busy at work, the boys would benefit from attending a boarding school. She and her siblings had all been to a private school in Kent, near where her parents live, which has a boarding house. Angela is also concerned that as David has recently set up his practice he will have less and less time available to spend with the twins. She is willing to pay their school fees in full though would prefer it if David contributed half.

David finds the idea of boarding school an anathema and is against private schooling in general. He was educated at a local comprehensive which he believes has not held him back. There is a very good state school near where the boys live which has good results and excellent purpose built facilities having recently become an Academy. He cannot easily afford to contribute to private school fees but fears that if he does not he will become marginalised and less important in the boys’ eyes.

Angela and David attempted to resolve the issue in mediation but were unsuccessful. Neither saw the issue as one where they could compromise.

Angela and David wish to have the matter resolved as soon as possible and preferably before the start of the next academic year because Gabriel and Guy will have to sit an entrance exam to the private school in January 2017. David does not want the boys to sit the exam if they are not going to go to the school. The twins are beginning to get anxious, sensing the tension between their parents.

Having taken advice Angela and David are dismayed to hear that they are very unlikely to have a court adjudicated decision before the end of the year. Their respective lawyers have advised that arbitration would be more attractive option for the following reasons:

  1. Speed and convenience – the timetable and location can be fixed more quickly than a court application and at a time convenient to Angela and David. It is likely that the process will be much quicker than an equivalent court process.
  2. Arbitrations can be conducted in a neutral venue convenient to both Angela and David.
  3. Angela and David can select an arbitrator with many years of experience in the field.
  4. Arbitrations are dealt with in private away from the glare of the media providing them with privacy and confidentiality.
  5. The views of Guy and Gabriel can be heard by an Independent Social Worker or, when appropriate, an educational psychologist.
  6. The welfare check list applied to children cases in the court is applied in the same way in arbitration to ensure that the welfare of Guy and Gabriel is paramount in the decision making process.
  7. The arbitrator’s decision is binding and can, if necessary be converted to a court order.

Angela and David have agreed to appoint an arbitrator from Family Law in Partnership who is available to take the case on and who will be able to give a determination before the October half term.”

If the matters described in this article have resonated with you and you would like to understand more about the arbitration children scheme please contact any of our three children law arbitrators, Gillian Bishop, James Pirrie or Felicity Shedden on 020 7420 5000 or email them at E:hello@flip.co.uk.