In Michigan, arbitration in a domestic relations case is governed by statute, the Domestic Relations Arbitration Act. Arbitration is voluntary and the parties must sign a written agreement to arbitrate their matter and it must be either in a court order or recorded by a court reporter in open court before a judge. The parties are required to waive their rights to trial and part of the arbitration agreement and the court order must include the detailed specifics of this waiver. The arbitration agreement must specifically state what issues in a domestic relations matter will be arbitrated.
Binding arbitration in a divorce can be used to handle every aspect of the divorce, including property division, child custody, child support, parenting time, spousal support, and any other issues related to the divorce. Any and all issues related to minor children must be recorded by a court reporter or other authorized method of recording per the Michigan Rules of Court – the rules of court procedures.
Appeals of binding arbitration decisions are much more limited than an appeal after a trial court decision. The benefit of binding arbitration is the reduction in delay caused by bringing a case to trial in court. An arbitrator must be an attorney in good standing with the State Bar of Michigan and he or she must be specifically trained and have extensive experience in domestic relations law to handle such disputes. The arbitrator is paid by the parties for his or her time. Although, parties do not have to pay the judge in a trial, arbitration is most often less expensive than waiting for a trial in court. This is because the arbitration can be specifically scheduled and will not be delayed by a judge's court docket. Trials often take months to complete because of the judge's schedule requiring the parties and attorneys to re-prepare for each different trial date. Judges often schedule half days here and there such that there is no steady pace and delivery of evidence. The arbitration is similar to a trial, but is a much less formal atmosphere where the harsh rules of evidence are often relaxed. Arbitration is private since it is not conducted in the public arena of a courtroom. The arbitrator issues an opinion and arbitration award, deciding on all of the issues arbitrated.
Arbitration is not for every case and whether or not to arbitrate should be discussed thoroughly with your attorney so that the costs and benefits of arbitration can be an informed decision for the client.