Arbitrations May Save Time, Money and Distress in Divorce Proceedings
Divorce is rarely, if ever, a happy process. The fundamental disagreements that lead a spouse to file for divorce may create chronic distrust and animosity. The additional conflicts spawned during a lengthy pretrial process and an attenuated trial can prevent the parties from effectively co-parenting. Moreover, all too often, the hardest-fought cases provoke a cascade of post-judgment contempt and modification motions, to the financial detriment of the parties and the emotional detriment of their children.
The Connecticut legislature recognized this when it amended its statutes in 2021 to allow for the arbitration, during divorce cases, of child custody and parenting issues, as well as of property issues, for which arbitration had previously been allowed. Our statutes now empower the court to refer all issues in a divorce case to arbitration. The process is relatively simple.
If divorce parties would rather arbitrate, rather than try their disputes in court, they must present to the court an agreement to arbitrate executed by both parties. The court then normally presides over a brief hearing to ensure that each party voluntarily entered in the arbitration agreement and that the terms of the arbitration agreement are fair to each party, given all the circumstances. Upon satisfying these two prerequisites, the parties may proceed to arbitration.
An arbitration is essentially a private trial, conducted before a retired judge or an arbitrator. Arbitration offers the parties an opportunity to shorten and streamline the trial process. Given the difficulty inherent in scheduling divorce trials in many Connecticut judicial districts, arbitration affords the parties the chance for an earlier hearing date, as well as for the greater probability of scheduling consecutive hearing dates, if needed. Arbitration is usually a more efficient process than a trial, one which, while dignified, is generally less formal. Another advantage of arbitration is its privacy, which may appeal to parties who do not wish to air out their laundry in a public courtroom.
After the arbitration decision is released, the parties must take further steps in court to confirm the award, but the confirmation process is generally neither lengthy nor time-consuming. A party may also move to modify or vacate the award.
Divorcing parties should, therefore, seriously consider arbitration. An arbitrated divorce will invariably save the parties time, money and the emotional tsuris that often attends a prolonged divorce trial.
Judge John D. Moore (Ret.), a former Connecticut Superior Court Judge, is a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution practice at Pullman & Comley, LLC, which offers mediation and arbitration services in complex civil matters in state and federal court, including family law, commercial, construction, employment, environmental, health care, insurance, personal injury and probate disputes.