Last week news broke the Jon and Kate Gossellin, stars of the Lifetime television program “Jon and Kate Plus Eight,” were divorced in Pennsylvania. Judge Arthur Tilson entered an Order making it official. To read previous blog entries on this celebrity divorce click here.
While many news articles reported that the couple used an arbitrator, few actually differentiated or explained the roll of the arbitrator. Sometimes divorcing couples use an arbitrator to decide issues in a divorce rather than go to the Court. While in New Jersey only a Judge can enter an Order actually divorcing a couple – hence dissolving the marriage, an arbitrator can decide almost any other issue, including alimony, child support, equitable distribution, college expenses, graduate school costs, medical expenses, counsel fees and tax-related issues. (The only caveat is that both parties must agree that the arbitrator has the authority to decide the issue.)
In NJ when it comes to custody and parenting time arbitration, there are specific requirements for this process that our Supreme Court has set forth in the Fawzy v. Fawzy matter. To read prior blog entries on this case and arbitration, click here or here.
Divorcing couples will often use an arbitrator in lieu of the Courts because it tends to be quicker and more efficient. Arbitration also provides the parties with the freedom to choose the person who will be deciding their case; can eliminate the necessity of multiple court appearances; and can address sensitive issues, such as unreported income – which couples would not want to make public.
Once a couple decides to use an arbitrator, the arbitrator acts similarly to a judge, deciding the issues of the case. The arbitrator will conduct a hearing (or trial) to decide the key issues and issue a decision. Once the arbitrator issues a decision the couple will go back to Court where a judge will enter the arbitrator’s decision and enter an Order divorcing the couple.
Arbitration can be expensive as you must pay the arbitrator, who is either an attorney or retired judge for his or her time. If arbitration is a consideration for you, its important that you factor in the cost of this process. Just as with anything, there are pros and cons to utilizing an arbitrator.