How Does Arbitration Work in Washington State?

November 24, 2022

You have a choice to make when you have a dispute, even in a family law case. You can either go the route of traditional litigation and take the matter to court, or you can participate in alternative dispute resolution such as arbitration. In some cases, arbitration is a mandatory proceeding to fulfill a contract.

What is arbitration? How does it work in Washington State? Is the proceeding binding? Arbitration is available for divorce cases as well as contract dispute cases. But is arbitration right for you?

What Is Arbitration?

Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution method in which parties agree for a neutral third party to end a dispute without going to court. Typically, the arbitration process is less expensive, quicker, and more informal than a traditional court proceeding. An additional advantage to arbitration is that it is confidential and private.

Most professional arbitrators work with published Rules of Arbitration as well as working within federal, state, and local laws that govern the process. There are limits within which the parties who are participating in arbitration can negotiate the ground rules of their arbitration process. They can determine how many arbitrators work with them, for example.

The provisions that the participants agree upon are written into a Contract to Arbitrate. Most kinds of contracts can include a binding arbitration clause. These clauses require that any dispute coming from the contract be resolved through arbitration instead of litigation. When someone wants to invoke an arbitration clause, they issue a Notice of Intent to Arbitrate.

The Arbitration Procedure in Washington State

The first step in the arbitration procedure is serving a written notice of arbitration on everyone involved in the proceeding. A notice of arbitration must be served within twenty days after the end, or a mediation attempt or the entry of a court order stating mediation isn’t required. If a court orders arbitration, then it must be handled in the manner it was ordered.

A party to the case can choose to commence arbitration proceedings by serving everyone else in the case a written notice of arbitration. This notice must be served before or at the initial hearing on the issue. After an initial hearing, the written notice of arbitration can only be served if the court agrees to it.

Parties can object to arbitration if they file a petition with the superior court and serve that same petition on everyone involved in the process. If there has been no written notice of arbitration, an objection to arbitration can be filed at any time. However, if written notice of arbitration has been served, parties must file any objections to arbitration no later than twenty days after receiving the written notice of arbitration.

After the objection to arbitration has been filed, there must be a hearing on the objection no later than twenty days after the objection petition is filed. Whoever objects to the arbitration must give notice to all other parties of the hearing on the objection at least ten days before the hearing occurs. A copy of the petition must be included with the notice of the hearing.

At the hearing on the objection, the court will determine if there is a good cause shown for objecting to the arbitration. If the court doesn’t find good cause, an arbitration proceeding will be ordered. However, if the court decides arbitration isn’t warranted, there are two options for settling the dispute. The court can either decide the matter at the hearing on the objection (if a request has been made for that to happen), or the court can direct other judicial intervention.

The Elements of Arbitration

Arbitration can be an effective way of settling a divorce case. The following elements are part of the arbitration process:

  • The spouses must agree they will abide by an independent arbitrator’s ruling on issues that they can’t settle on their own. This could be one issue, or it could be several issues.
  • Both spouses agree, along with arbitration lawyers, to work toward negotiating a settlement.
  • The arbitration attorneys will present arguments before the professional arbitrator. The arguments will support the goals of that attorney’s client and will be presented in an arbitration hearing. If the case is complex, it may take a series of hearings to argue the case.
  • Compromise guides the arbitration process. The arbitrator will attempt to help the parties to the arbitration find a middle ground between their ideas. In other words, the arbitrator doesn’t just pronounce a resolution to the case. Instead, they help guide the parties to terms they both are able to accept.
  • Once the arbitrator determines the final settlement of the issues, the judge will approve the settlement. Upon that approval, the settlement becomes a legal judgment of the court.

Is Arbitration Right for You in Washington?

Arbitration is a lot like appearing in court and giving up some of your power to make decisions. It might surprise you to learn that arbitration is not the right solution for everyone. Some couples never reach a level of contention that requires arbitration. Other couples need the finality they will receive by going to court.

Here are some of the advantages of arbitration that make couples turn to the process.

  • Arbitration is private, so it’s a good choice for those who want or need to protect their privacy. Divorce, on the other hand, is a matter of public record. Couples who have extensive assets or are well-known or with sensitive child custody issues often opt for arbitration because of the benefit of privacy.
  • The arbitrator’s goal is to help resolve issues in a mutually acceptable manner. A judge, on the other hand, must decide the case based on their dealings with similar cases and their understanding of how the law applies to the situation at hand.
  • Usually, arbitration is less formal than a court proceeding. The lessened formality usually leads to greater comfort with the process.


Arbitration Versus Mediation Versus Litigation

When you commit to arbitration, you commit to allowing a third party to hear your side and your opponent’s side and render a decision. Many insurance companies use arbitration to solve disputes regarding claims.

Arbitration is like a cross between mediation and a court proceeding. The main distinction between arbitration and a formal court proceeding is that arbitration can be either a binding or non-binding procedure. In a binding arbitration proceeding, the decision or award that is made is final.

In Washington State, the superior court may require mandatory arbitration. In counties with 70,000 or more people, if the only judgment that is requested is for money, participants will be required to participate in mandatory arbitration. Mandatory arbitration occurs under the authority of the courts. The law dictates that arbitration can only be used in cases that dispute values of $35,000 or less.

Who Must Pay for Arbitration in Washington State?

Filing fees for arbitration are payable upfront to the superior court where the petition is filed. If you need assistance with the county fees, each county has a form you can complete to request waiving or reducing the fees.

Usually, arbitration costs are the responsibility of the parties involved. They must pay equal portions of the costs of arbitration, including compensating the arbitrator for their time. Additionally, each party is responsible for its own legal fees and the costs to retain any expert witness testimony. The fee agreement is part of the written arbitration agreement.

During the arbitration process, the arbitrator can decide who must pay which portion of the arbitration fees. The arbitrator can order any costs, including expert witness fees or attorneys’ fees, to be paid by anyone who is a party to the proceedings.

If the arbitration process is completed without a resolution to the case, it will become a litigation matter. If that happens, the court presiding over the case determines who is responsible for the fees. Depending on how the matter is resolved, the judge can direct one or both parties to pay a portion of the costs.

Reasons to Have a Lawyer During Arbitration Proceedings

No one is required to retain a lawyer for arbitration proceedings. However, there are several reasons why it makes sense to have an attorney assist you with your case.

  1. The arbitrator’s decision affects your rights, and a decision made in binding arbitration is final.
  2. An attorney can help you present a well-founded case. They will know what, if any, laws support your position and can assist you in presenting that evidence.
  3. An attorney helps preserve fairness, particularly if your dispute is with a large entity.
  4. An attorney is more familiar with the arbitration process. They are more likely to be familiar with the arbitrators.
  5. Decisions coming from arbitration are often life-changing. Having an attorney assist you can help you reach a better outcome.

Final Thoughts

Arbitration is one form of alternative dispute resolution. To determine if arbitration is appropriate in your case or to learn more about how the process works in Washington State, a qualified attorney can help you understand the process. The Aberdeen Law Firm has attorneys who can help you understand and navigate the arbitration process in Washington State. You don’t have to handle arbitration on your own; contact an attorney who specializes in handling arbitration proceedings.

Related Content: Who Pays for Arbitration in Washington State?

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