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Coming Soon to Washington State: The Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act

Posted on December 5, 2023 by Desiree Good

On January 1, 2024, the Uniform Family Law Arbitration Act (UFLAA) goes into effect in Washington State. The UFLAA is a new law that will allow many family law issues to be resolved in an out-of-court arbitration process instead of going to court. The law was passed to provide families with greater efficiency and flexibility in resolving their parenting and financial disputes.

Here is what you need to know about the new law:

When does the UFLAA apply? For the UFLAA to apply to your family law dispute, there must be a written, signed agreement between you and your spouse or the other parent. The agreement must name the arbitrator (or identify a method of selecting an arbitrator) and identify the type of family law dispute that is to be arbitrated. Otherwise, if there is no agreement to arbitrate then you will still need to go to court.

What does the arbitrator have the power to do under the UFLAA? An arbitrator may make family law related decisions, compel and regulate discovery (discovery is the legal process of obtaining information for your case), determine the admissibility and weight of evidence, issue financial protective orders preventing disclosure of sensitive financial information, award and allocate attorney and expert witness fees, and impose appropriate sanctions.

Is there anything an arbitrator cannot do? Under the Act, arbitrators cannot grant a divorce or legal separation. This means that only a judge has the power to sign the necessary final paperwork granting your divorce. Additionally, an arbitrator cannot terminate parental rights, grant an adoption or guardianship of a child, or issue domestic violence protection orders.

Can disputes about children be arbitrated? Yes, under the UFLAA you and the other parent can agree to arbitrate child-related disputes, but there are special considerations and procedures that must be followed.

First, even if you and the other parent agree to initially arbitrate, if a child-related dispute arises after you have agreed to arbitrate, the agreement is unenforceable unless both of you subsequently ratify the agreement, or the agreement was made part of a family law court order such as a parenting plan.

Second, the UFLAA requires that an arbitrator record any part of the arbitration that involves child-related disputes. This may seem like a strange requirement, but ultimately, the court—not the arbitrator—has final authority to determine what is in a child’s best interest. This means that the court must determine whether the arbitrator’s decision complies with family law and is in the best interest of the child. The court will rely on the recording of the arbitration proceeding to make this important determination.

Should you arbitrate your family law dispute? Whether to arbitrate depends on your unique family law situation and particular dispute. It is best to consult an attorney to discuss the new law and how it may apply to your legal situation. The attorneys of the Lasher Family Law Practice Group are ready to help when needed.