Appellate Court Affirms Arbitration Divorce Settlement as Final

With the daunting prospect of going through a long divorce process, some have chosen to mediate their cases before a neutral, experienced mediator in order to save on attorneys fees and come to a quicker resolution. However, even if the parties went to mediation, the parties would still have to sign a Marital Settlement Agreement. Until that is signed and entered by a judge as part of a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, there is a possibility that one of the parties could change their minds.

The other alternative would be binding arbitration. Like mediation, the parties would avoid a formal trial before a trial court and a drawn out divorce. However, unlike mediation, a decision by an arbitrator is final. As such, even if you’re unhappy with the arbitrator’s decision, judicial review is very limited.

This unfortunate event occurred in a recent case of In re the Marriage of Haleas, 2017 IL App (2d) 160799 from DuPage County. In that case, the parties went to arbitration for five days with the Honorable Michele F. Lowrance (Ret.) of JAMS arbitration. The arbitrator heard five days of hearing and presentation of a “substantial amount of evidence and testimony” and issued a 70-page decision. The Husband filed a motion in court to admit the arbitrator’s decision as final and the trial court entered the decision as final over the Wife’s objection. The Wife appealed the decision stating that the arbitrator failed to properly classify some of Husband’s business as marital and failed to properly award maintenance.

The appellate court affirmed the trial court decision stating that its judicial review powers of an arbitration award is very limited and Wife’s arguments consisted of the substance of the decision and not the validity of the arbitration itself. In other words, Wife did not argue that there was any substantial justice in the arbitration process itself. As a result, the fact that she disagreed with the arbitrator’s decision was irrelevant.

Depending on the facts of your case, arbitration may be a good option. There is a finality to the case which is not true of mediation or trial court decisions. However, if you would like there to be more opportunities to change your mind or to appeal a decision, I would stay far far away from arbitration.

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