If you and your partner can't agree on how to resolve some or all of your family matters, you can have them decided by an arbitrator who acts like a judge. The arbitrator listens to the position of each party and makes a decision that is legally binding. Both of you must agree to have the arbitration. Some arbitrators do mediation before arbitration.

Many family law arbitrators, mediator-arbitrators, and parenting coordinators are lawyers accredited with the Law Society of BC. This is because only lawyers can arbitrate property, spousal support, and complex child support issues. But the arbitrator isn't your lawyer, so you should still get independent legal advice.

Family law arbitrators

Before a family law arbitrator begins to listen to each side of the story, everyone must agree on:

  • what the issues are,
  • what rules will apply to make sure each of you has the opportunity to be heard,
  • financial disclosure,
  • whether experts are needed, and
  • how the arbitrator will be paid.

The family law arbitrator will then make a written decision that is legally binding and enforceable by the court. Usually, parties are represented by their own lawyers during arbitration.

For more information and to find a family law arbitrator, contact the ADR Institute of BC or Access Pro Bono's Lawyer Referral Service. Ask for an arbitrator who handles family issues.


Some family law arbitrators are also trained as mediator-arbitrators (or med-arbitrators) and will do mediation with the two parties before continuing on with arbitration. The advantage is that if you can't resolve all your issues with mediation, you can continue with the same person for arbitration of the unresolved issues.

You and your partner would need to discuss with the med-arbitrator what the process will be, and at what point you'll stop mediation and start arbitration. This might be based on time, budget, or reaching a point where no more progress can be made. Because you and your partner choose the med-arbitrator, you must abide by whatever decisions they make.

To find an med-arbitrator, contact Mediate BC, the ADR Institute of BC, or Access Pro Bono's Lawyer Referral Service. Ask for a med-arbitrator who handles family issues.

Note that this is still a new legal option in BC. MediateBC has published Standards of Conduct for Med-Arbitrators, developed training and experience requirements, and established a med-arb roster.

Parenting coordinators

Parenting coordinators help you and your separated partner settle parenting disagreements about what was agreed to in a separation agreement or was set out in a court order. The parenting coordinator will first try to resolve the conflict through consensus building (collaborative problem solving). If there's no agreement, the parenting coordinator will make a final decision (called a determination) about the issue. This determination is legally binding and enforceable by the court.

Parenting coordinators must be qualified under the Family Law Act and can be experienced family law lawyers, counsellors, social workers, mediators, or psychologists who have special training in mediating and arbitrating parenting disputes.

You and the other parent can agree to have a parenting coordinator for up to two years to help with issues as they come up, such as parenting arrangements, discipline, education, and other day-to-day issues. The court may also appoint a parenting coordinator.

For more information and to find a parenting coordinator, see the BC Parenting Coordinators Roster Society website.