It is a way for disputes and disagreements to be decided outside the court system. Arbitration is quicker and cheaper than having a dispute decided by the courts. The Arbitrator makes a decision and records that in an Award.
Yes is it binding and no, one party cannot just change their mind if they don't like the decision. Arbitration starts with an agreement to arbitrate and to be bound by the Arbitrator's award. Arbitration Awards are recognised by the court and will not be interfered with, except in very limited circumstances.
You could apply to the court and ask a judge to make a decision for you but there are many advantages with family arbitration. Arbitration gives you more control over the process and it is faster and cheaper.
Of course you can. Well placed legal advice from a solicitor specialising in family law matters, can be helpful but you don't need a solicitor to engage an arbitrator.
IFLA (Institute of Family Law Arbitrators) govern the scheme and hold all the names of qualified, accredited arbitrators. You might want an arbitrator with a particular skill or interest or in a particular geographic area. You will certainly see the same arbitrator throughout the arbitration process. If you go to court, you have no choice over the judge who hears your case and it is very common for you to have a different judge on each hearing.
You, your partner and your legal team (if you have one) can decide how you want the areas of dispute to be decided. One of the great advantages of arbitration is the flexibility. You would usually discuss this with the arbitrator. If you go to court, there is a 'one size fits all' process with little flexibility.
Unlike court proceedings, you can limit the areas that you want the arbitrator to make a decision about. You can tell the arbitrator what has been agreed and the arbitrator will accept that. Coupled with the flexibility, you could, for example, ask for a decision on paper for just one area if all other areas are agreed. There are many possibilities.
Mediation provides a space and supports you both to work together to reach your own solution. If you can't reach an agreement, then you would need an arbitrator or a court to decide for you. An arbitrator will make a decision for you, and that decision is legally binding.