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Arbitration is similar to a bench trial in court, with the arbitrator considering evidence and deciding the factual and legal issues; however, effective arbitration differs from a bench trial in several important respects.  Unlike court proceedings, arbitration is governed by the parties’ contract (which is entered into either before or after the dispute arises).  The contract might specify what rules govern the proceeding, and those rules (whether self designed or adopted from a dispute resolution provider, such as the American Arbitration Association) often limit the discovery that is allowed or leave the scope of discovery to the arbitrator’s discretion.  In addition, the law could limit the ability to conduct discovery. Arbitration further differs from a bench trial in the following respects:

  • Arbitrators generally are not bound by the Rules of Evidence, unless the arbitration agreement indicates otherwise.
  • An arbitrator’s factual and legal determinations are final and can only be appealed under limited circumstance.
  • Arbitration allows for a quicker resolution to the issues, as arbitrators tend to have a smaller case load than judges.
  • The parties pay the arbitrator, whereas judges are paid by the government.

In a family law matter, the parties can also choose to have a “Family Law Master” act as an arbitrator and make binding decisions.  As governed by Rule 72 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure, a court may appoint a Family Law Master upon agreement by the parties and subsequent approval by the court.  A Family Law Master is typically an attorney or other professional with expertise regarding the particular issue referred to him or her. The appointed Family Law Master may deal with legal decision-making and parenting time disputes between the parties, coordinating meetings between the parties and their attorneys upon appointment.  Absent an objection by either party, decisions of law and fact made by Family Law Masters become binding orders of the court.