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The traditional method to resolve legal disputes in the area of matrimonial, domestic relations, or family law matters is contested litigation. While sometimes necessary, this process can be time consuming and expensive. Two formal alternatives or companions to this process are mediation and arbitration, generally known as alternative dispute resolution.
MEDIATION is a formal effort to aid the parties to find a settlement of their dispute. A third, neutral party, called a Mediator, conducts one or more conferences to identify the issues and positions of the parties and to aid the parties in discovering the middle ground or viable settlement solutions. The Mediator does not make any decision for the parties. Generally, the entire mediation process is held confidentially, and no part of the process or anything discussed during it can be used by or against any party if the efforts are unsuccessful and a trial is held.
ARBITRATION is a voluntary process in which the parties agree to submit part or all of their dispute to a decision maker known as an Arbitrator. The parties and the Arbitrator control the issues submitted, the manner in which the arbitration will be conducted, and declare whether the decision will be binding and final, or non-binding. Normally the arbitration process is less formal and more expeditious than a hearing or trial in a courtroom.
Academy Fellows are committed to the resolution of client disputes through the most efficient means to attain the goals of each client, whether by litigation or alternative dispute resolution. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers regularly offers intensive Mediation and Arbitration training to its Fellows. Academy mediation and arbitration training is limited to Certified Fellows of the AAML.
Interest in matrimonial law arbitration has increased in recent years. While the AAML has actively promoted arbitration since 1989, the adoption of the new AAML Model Family Law Arbitration Act has generated renewed interest in an alternative dispute resolution methodology that previously has been primarily within the domain of commercial law. The Model Act includes not only a framework for state family law arbitration statutes but also suggested rules for arbitration. Under the guidance of AAML Fellows, a number of states have amended their statutes to permit a wider range of family law arbitrations and a number of other states are considering such amendments.
“Arbitration is a great courtroom alternative for those litigants who are unable to resolve their cases in mediation” says Lynn P. Burleson, former chair of the Arbitration Committee of the AAML. “It provides litigants with an opportunity for an expedited hearing before an arbitrator who has substantial expertise in matrimonial law and who is willing to set aside the time necessary to hear the evidence and to decide the disputed issues of the case. For a number of reasons and to an increasing degree, that opportunity is not available to litigants in the state trial courts.”
The AAML is the only organization offering family law arbitration training. Hopefully, Fellows completing this training are better equipped to serve as family law arbitrators and better equipped to represent their clients in an arbitration proceeding.