Many divorcing couples are attracted to arbitration as a swift and relatively cheap alternative to resolving financial issues in court. However, as a High Court ruling made clear, arbitrators’ decisions, even if not perfect, are final.
An arbitrator to whom a couple had submitted the financial aspects of their divorce for resolution decided, amongst other things, that the husband should pay £500 a month in maintenance to the wife for three years. The husband, however, objected to that outcome, claiming that the arbitrator had made an error in leaving out of account the wife’s income from renting rooms in her home to lodgers.
The arbitrator responded to the husband’s complaints by amending his decision so as to reduce the wife’s monthly maintenance payments to £300. The husband, however, remained dissatisfied and asked the Court to set aside that part of the arbitrator’s award that related to spousal maintenance.
In dismissing his application, however, the Court noted that the starting point under Section 58 of the Arbitration Act 1996 is that arbitrators’ decisions are final and binding. The policy of the Act is to value finality over meticulous accuracy and, once the arbitrator had discharged his duty by making the award, he only had the power to amend it by correcting obvious slips or clerical errors.
The husband’s arguments that the arbitrator’s approach to spousal maintenance was obviously wrong, and that the proceedings were infected by serious irregularity, were rejected. Although the Court found that the arbitrator had exceeded his powers by amending his initial award, the wife took a pragmatic approach and accepted that the amended award should stand in the interests of bringing matters to an end. The amended award was made into an order of the Court.