What happens at a family arbitration?

Arbitration is a process where each side tells his or her side of the dispute to the arbitrator and asks for a specific decision.

Each side may present witnesses and documents as evidence to support their facts, and make arguments to support the decision they want.

Both sides should speak to lawyers or an arbitrator to find the procedure that works best for them. Usually the lawyers for each side (or the disputing people themselves) and the arbitrator work out details of the procedure to be followed. If they don't, the arbitrator decides the procedure in accordance with Ontario's Arbitration Act, 1991.

Often people prefer a process that is less formal and rigid than a courtroom.

The law allows a lot of choice as to the appropriate procedure. However, the procedure must be fair to both sides.

An arbitrator cannot decide anything that people could not have decided for themselves. The arbitrator only has the power given to him or her in the arbitration agreement. An arbitrator cannot allow or order either side to break the law.

Exactly what the arbitrator is being asked to decide should be set out in an arbitration agreement. An arbitrator can be asked to resolve several issues, or specific topics such as division of property, support, and custody of or access to children.

All arbitration decisions involving children must be decided in their best interests.

An arbitrator cannot change official family status: he or she cannot grant a divorce, annul a marriage or declare someone to be or not to be someone else's child. Only a court can make that kind of order.