An alternative to litigation over the correct venue for international family disputes has been unveiled in the US.
Developed by lawyers Patrick Parkinson and David Hodson, the International Family Law Arbitration Scheme (IFLAS) is designed to help families involved in multinational disputes choose the correct national jurisdiction, or ‘forum’, for the resolution of their case. The jurisdiction chosen can have a significant effect on the outcome of some cases, in particular divorce settlements.
Instead of potentially lengthy and expensive litigation, the forum with which the couple have the closest connection will be selected via arbitration. Although similar to mediation in some respects, arbitration has some crucial differences: it is conducted by a specially trained legal professional, is entirely private, and the decisions made are legally binding. With the involvement of a single lawyer over a fixed amount of time, it is both cheaper and quicker than courtroom litigation.
The newly announced scheme will feature experienced international arbitrators chosen from ‘neutral’ countries unconnected with either party to the dispute.
Speaking to delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) in Boston, Patrick Parkinson explained:
“The use of an arbitrator from a third country is a key part of the Scheme. At the moment, forum disputes are heavily skewed to whichever party is able to manoeuvre the forum dispute to be heard in their country. Having a third country arbitrator is like having an umpire in a sports event who is not from either of the competing countries. This is impossible under any national justice system, but for the first time is possible with IFLAS.”
Arbitration would result in fairer outcomes added David Hodson, because the party who had failed to secure their choice of forum would be less likely to feel hard done by.
IFLAS will be officially launched on 4 September at the16th Australian Family Law Conference in Fiji. An interactive website will accompany IFLAS, with an initial questionnaire for participants to complete.