Family Law Arbitration in Kansas
The Uniform Law Commission adopted the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act in July 2016 offering a framework for all states to enact arbitration for family law cases. The growing number of highly contested family law cases combined with budget cuts to state courts creating long delays make it necessary for lawyers and judges to consider faster alternative ways to resolve disputes. Along with mediation and collaborative law, arbitration could, and should, be a viable option. Those who cannot settle their family law disputes over money or their children through negotiation or mediation most often have to litigate. Litigation is rarely a good option for these emotionally-charged disputes, especially where children are involved.[i] High conflict cases that often drag on for years due to contentious parties and crowded court dockets with inadequate resources harm both parents and children, financially and emotionally.[ii] For parties who want a final decision from an expert on part or all of their case in a timely manner, arbitration offers more privacy and informality and, in most cases, at a lower cost.
Arbitration depends upon the parties entering into an agreement to arbitrate their dispute. The parties select (and pay) the neutral arbitrator based on reputation, experience and expertise. They also choose the issues to be decided, the procedures to be used and the timeline. The parties bypass the delays, formality and time constraints of the public court system by removing the case from the court.[iii] The arbitrator may conduct the hearing(s) in a private informal setting at times convenient to the parties, not just courthouse hours and dates. The parties may agree as to discovery and to submit evidence in whatever form they wish. After hearing each side’s witnesses and other evidence, the arbitrator makes a binding decision.[iv] There are few grounds to overturn the award, such as the arbitrator engaged in fraud, corruption or other serious misconduct. The award can be enforced or affirmed by the court as part of its judgment.
Family law differs from commercial disputes mainly because of the intimate relationship between the parties and the subject matter – often children - which creates a strained emotional climate. Families also come in varying forms, including unmarried same-sex partners, stepparents, grandparents and other relatives, not all of whom are treated the same under state laws. Arbitration can work for large numbers of complex family law cases. Indeed, parties have been arbitrating property and support issues for decades in several states. Child-related issues, however, raise different concerns because of the court’s role as parens patriae to protect the best interests of children.
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