COVID Court closures are expected to create a significant backlog of family cases and delays getting to trial and resolution. This is especially difficult for families whose complex situation calls for Court intervention, but access to the Court has been quite limited. What options do these families have while they await rescheduled hearing and trial dates & their day in Court?
This series of articles explores options to help stabilize families in crisis through:
· Parent Coordination
· Early Neutral Case Evaluation
· Child Counsel Representation
· Custody Evaluations
What is Arbitration?
Arbitration is a decision-making process in which the parties voluntarily substitute a private process and decision-maker (the arbitrator) for the public process and decision-maker (the Court and a Judge). Maryland has a Uniform Arbitration Act, which parties can opt into or out of. Instead of having a Court dictate the timing and structure of the process and a Judge determine the outcome, the parties can dictate the timing and structure and an arbitrator determine the outcome.
In child custody and parenting arbitrations, the arbitrator’s decision must be reviewed by the court to determine whether the children’s best interests are met by the arbitration decision.
What Does Arbitration Look Like?
It varies, is completely customizable, and may look as much like a court process as the parties opt into. However structured, an arbitration involves:
· Each parent or spouse (and their attorneys, if represented and participating) presenting their evidence & arguments
· Deliberation by the arbitrator
· The arbitrator rendering a decision (which is also called an award)
How Can Arbitration Help During Court Backlog?
Arbitration is a voluntary process parties can pursue at any time. It does not depend upon the Court’s calendar. Because arbitration is subject to court review in child custody and parenting legal matters, it is better suited to temporary and pressing issues that may not rise to the level of any emergency.
For example, willing parents could submit the following types of issues to arbitration if they want to be assured of a process and decision within a certain amount of time:
· Temporary parenting schedule
· Withholding of a child by one parent from parenting time with the other parent
· School selection
· Pressing legal decisions which a court may not treat as an emergency
While only a court can make a final, binding decision, in contested matters, arbitration is an option for parents seeking temporary stability and forward movement in a chaotic, complex family situation until the family has its day in Court.
Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation. Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.