Arbitration is an option that involves a third party called an arbitrator. Arbitrators, unlike mediators, act like a “judge,” as they are professionals trained to hear testimony, take evidence, and issue actual decisions for the couple. When a couple decides to arbitrate their case, all parties involved must initially sign an arbitration agreement. This document gives the arbitrator decision-making authority, narrows the issues to be arbitrated (frequently issues that weren’t resolved through mediation) and defines whether the arbitrated award will be binding and thus become a court order.
As in mediation, you and your spouse usually both hire attorneys to help with the arbitration process so that you are both advised and represented by an experienced divorce lawyer. During arbitration there is an actual “hearing,” similar to a court hearing, but in a less formal setting. There are opening statements, presentation of the evidence, cross-examination, and closing arguments. Like a court trial, you have little control over the outcome. Arbitration is not always confidential depending on what your signed arbitration agreement states. This option also tends to be more expensive than mediation because you and your spouse not only have to pay for an arbitrator and each of your attorney fees, but, depending on the complexity, the “trial” preparation is often as extensive and time-consuming as preparing for an actual trial.