When a relationship breaks down, there are many issues to be resolved. If the parties are parents, most will want to ensure that the arrangements for the children are the best that can be achieved in the new situation.

The majority of parents are successful in finding solutions to disagreements by discussion and negotiation, often with guidance from their solicitors. They recognise that, even though their own relationship has run its course, the children continue to need love, affection and support. Research over many years, shows convincingly that there children who do best are those who continue to have a loving relationship with both parents.

Sadly, there are situations where the parents just cannot agree. Problems can arise over a wide variety of issues, such as

  • where the children are to have their primary home
  • the time that the children will spend with each parent
  • the arrangements for holidays, Christmas and birthdays
  • the financial support that is to be provided
  • whether one parent should be permitted to move area or even abroad with the children
  • if the children are living with their mother who remarries, whether she should be permitted to change the surname of the children
  • the school to be attended.

All the above examples are important but sometimes there can be really serious issues which divide the parents such as:

  • whether a child should have a medical procedure, even one which could be life saving
  • whether a child should be brought up to follow a particular religion or none
  • a particular method of child rearing, such as home teaching over conventional schooling or the continuation of breastfeeding for much longer than is conventional in this country
  • topically, whether a child should be encouraged to support a terrorist organisation.

If it is not possible for the parents to find a solution to such problems, either of them has the option of going to court. However, the recent launch of a Children Arbitration Scheme is now available as another option.

This scheme is a significant development in the options available to parents. Arbitration offers a tailor-made and flexible alternative to court proceedings that is likely to be quicker and cheaper. Additionally, the parties are able to exercise more control over

  • timing (which can be essential when it comes to schooling or holidays)
  • venue and
  • choice of arbitrator.

Parents wishing to use the arbitration scheme sign a binding agreement to arbitrate. The decision of the arbitrator is final and can be converted into a court order if necessary.

The arbitrator, unlike a judge in court, is not permitted to meet the children but can direct an independent social worker to conduct an investigation (which would include speaking to the children) and produce a report with recommendations based on the social worker’s findings.

The essential feature of the arbitration scheme is that the outcome must be what is best for the children. The scheme contains a system under which the arbitrator will be able to obtain information about any known safeguarding issues.

Throughout the process, parties can be represented by their lawyers and can obtain legal advice.

Further information can be obtained from the website www.ifla.org.uk