Children Arbitration

Dispute about Children? We can help

What is Children Arbitration?

It’s like a personal court where you choose the judge who is to make a decision about your family dispute over children and in which both sides agree to accept the decision made. It saves time and money, and cuts out a lot of the stress.

Arbitration is not mediation, early neutral evaluation or a legal advice service. Arbitration is a legally approved process which resolves your dispute with a sound final decision made by a qualified expert in children law. It’s an alternative dispute resolution service.

What can I expect from Hampton Family Arbitration?

You can expect your case to be dealt with efficiently and fairly by professionals who are experts in the law relating to children. 

Hampton Family Arbitration can offer the services of barristers who are qualified as Children Arbitrators, accredited and regulated by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators. Children Arbitration is also governed by the Arbitration Act 1996.

If you choose us, your hearing could be listed within days or a few weeks and at a flexible time, including evenings and weekends. The cost of the service is significantly lower than proceedings through the Family Court, which can exceed £10,000.

What sorts of disputes can Children Arbitration resolve?

The issues that can arise when parents disagree about their children have had different names over the years. Custody, residence, and ‘live with’ all mean the same thing. Similarly, contact and ‘spend time with’ mean the same thing. The current name for the living and contact arrangements for children is a child arrangements order.

For those involved in a disagreement over their children, Children Arbitration is a very attractive alternative to Family Court proceedings. Arbitration can decide most issues that come under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 such as where the child should live, how much time should be spent with each parent and other family members, schooling and the problems that arise when one parent wants to move with the children to a distant part of the country. 

Will I get a reasoned decision?

Yes. The decision of the Arbitrator is called a Determination. It is a written, detailed and reasoned judgment, which is completely independent. The same law must be applied in the arbitration as is applied in the Family Court. The arbitration must also be conducted fairly and properly.

What are the benefits of Children Arbitration?

The benefits of asking us to resolve your dispute include the following: 

  • Fixed fees with no hidden extras‍
  • The hearing will be more relaxed
  • ‍You will be liaising directly with the Arbitrator, rather than with different people in a busy court office
  • You choose your own judge
  • ‍The judge will be a senior barrister specialising in children law and will also be a fully qualified arbitrator accredited and regulated by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA)
  • ‍In making a decision on the dispute, exactly the same substantive law must be applied by us as is applied in the Family Court
  •  The hearing will be private and the media are excluded from hearings, which is especially valuable and important for our high profile clients
  • In the Family Court your case can be adjourned or delayed until much later in the day because another case has overrun or is more urgent than your case
  • The process is confidential, subject only to safeguarding concerns which are concerns about safety and must by law be referred to the appropriate authorities
  • ‍ You can represent yourself or have a lawyer at the hearing, or a friend can help you to do it (unless there is valid objection)
  • ‍ You don’t have to attend a MIAM (Mediation and Information Assessment Meeting)
  •  You may be able to use an expert such as a psychologist even it is not strictly necessary, but is merely desirable or helpful, especially if the other side agrees
  • ‍You can choose which issues you would like the arbitrator to decide
  • ‍If  the parties agree, it may be possible for the case to be dealt with on documents alone, especially if the issue is a simple one
  • ‍The decision of the arbitrator is intended to be binding because that’s what you will have agreed and come to us for
  • ‍The hearing can be at a suitable venue chosen by you
  • ‍If required, an independent social worker can be instructed to help gather information about what the children need, and to ascertain their wishes and feelings. Fees vary, but are likely to be about £33 an hour.
  • Your case will be the only case on your chosen day
  • Unless there is a very good reason, the case will start on time, so there will very rarely be any waiting
  • We aim for the decision to be made and sent to you within 7 days of the hearing. Urgent matters could get a decision the same day
  • ‍You will get an early hearing date, perhaps within days or weeks, rather than months of waiting for a court hearing
  • ‍Arbitration hearings are not expected to last more than a day
  • ‍ We are available for you at evenings and at weekends to suit you
  • ‍The hearing can be dealt with at a suitable venue of your choice away from the stressful court environment
  • ‍ We can have hearings by telephone and video conferencing
  • ‍ You will get a written decision (called a Determination) with detailed reasons
  • ‍The cost of the service is much less than going to the Family Court
  • ‍You can expect your case to be heard and decided at just one main hearing. A planning meeting (called a directions hearing) can be held by telephone or dealt with on paper beforehand
  • The arbitrator will know about your case as he or she will have read the papers that you provide in advance.

Is the decision of the Arbitrator binding?

Arbitration is a process whose outcome is intended to be final. There are very limited bases for raising a challenge or appeal, and it is only in exceptional circumstances that a court will exercise its own discretion in substitution for the decision of the Arbitrator. In other words, the Family Court will support the Arbitrator's decision unless something has gone very wrong in the arbitration.

The President of the Family Division of the High Court has stated in his Practice Guidance of 23 November 2015:

''Where the parties are putting the matter before the court by consent, ... it can only be in the rarest of cases that it will be appropriate for the judge to do other than approve the order."

The parties are expected to apply to the Family Court for an Order in the same terms as the Arbitrator’s decision.

Do I have to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting)?

If you apply to the court for a consent order within 4 months of taking part in Children Arbitration, you are exempt from attending a MIAM. See the Family Proceedings Rules 2010 rule 3.8(1)(d).

Can the decision of the Arbitrator be enforced?

Yes. You will probably be asking the Family Court to make an Order under the Children Act 1989 in the same terms as the arbitration order and you can apply to enforce that Family Court Order. This is likely to be done as paperwork without the need for anyone to attend court. Then court enforcement proceedings can be started if necessary in the family court.

If necessary, the arbitrator’s decision and order can also be enforced by making an application to the court under section 66 of the Arbitration Act 1996:

“An award made by the tribunal pursuant to an arbitration agreement may, by leave of the court, be enforced in the same manner as a judgment or order of the court to the same effect.”

How much are the Arbitrator’s fees?

We work to a standard, not a price. That means that if we need to spend longer working on your case than the fee covers, we will work at our own cost until the work is done and the highest quality is achieved.

The fixed fee is £2,500 including VAT to cover the initial enquiry, reading the papers, having a planning meeting for directions before the hearing, the one day main hearing itself, the writing of the reasons and sending the decision to the parties. The planning meeting may be on paper only or by telephone or with parties attending. The fee is payable whether or not the case proceeds to a hearing.

The cost of any extra day is £800 including VAT.

Extra costs would be those of any necessary expert, including an independent social worker, and room hire.

If you are coming to us part way through family court proceedings, or if your dispute is particularly simple we may be able to offer you arbitration at a reduced fee.

Who are our Arbitrators?

Julie Stather MCIArb

She is a Member of the Charted Institute of Arbitrators. You can find out more about her by going to Our Arbitrators page.

What we can’t do yet

Arbitration is expanding all the time, but things that we can’t do yet include cases with an international element, life-threatening medical treatment cases, cases where a party lacks capacity under the Mental Health Act 2005, cases where a parent is under the age of 18 years, cases where the child in the case has or should have his or her own solicitor, the making of injunctions and applications to commit someone to prison. Much as we would like to see the children that we are making decisions about, the rules don’t allow us to meet them.

Would you like more information?

Whether you are a lawyer or member of the public, if you would like to find out more or wish to appoint one of our Arbitrators, please contact us by emailing us at

Other links for information - The Institute of Family Law Arbitrators - IFLA Administration - Financial Arbitrators