One of the most important qualities arbitrators, mediators and parenting coordinators bring to the table is their neutrality, and if you’re looking to hire a particular arbitrator, mediator or parenting coordinator, you shouldn’t do anything that would impact the other person’s perception that the arbitrator, mediator or parenting coordinator is absolutely unbiased.
This is trickier than it may seem. A lot of the people who contact John-Paul Boyd Arbitration Chambers, contact us as if they’re contacting someone that they want to advocate for them, the way a lawyer represents a client in court. They want to tell us their whole story, including the result they think is best. Even the lawyers who contact us often want to say more about their file than they should.
This is understandable. It’s human nature. Family law disputes are among the most sensitive, most personal and most consequential legal disputes there are, and the stakes are usually very, very high. However, it’s important that you avoid telling us too much about your dispute and the people involved in it.
Suggestions for people involved in family law disputes
When contacting us, you should assume that John-Paul will share many of the details about how we were contacted, including providing a copy of your email or a description of the content of your conversation. He will want to be completely transparent about everything. Ask yourself: Would the other side think your communication with John-Paul was balanced and fair? Would the other side think you were trying to gain an advantage? Would the other side believe that John-Paul is likely to remain independent and impartial?
The best way to hire us is through a lawyer, if you have one. Let your lawyer take care of describing the legal issues and the history of the dispute to us. Often the lawyers for each person will talk to each other first, and either write a joint email to us, or at least copy the other lawyer on the email and say that they both agree to hire us.
If you can’t do that, the next best thing is for both of you — you and the other person involved in your dispute, that is — to sent us an email together. You should each provide your contact information and both of you should write your names at the end of the email. You might want to give a short description of the nature of the problem, like “we can’t agree about parenting issues” or “we have a problem about spousal support.”
If that isn’t possible either, then write to us yourself, remembering that the other person will get a copy of your email and will be reading it very carefully for anything he or she thinks might be unfair or untrue. What we’d really like to see is an email like this:
“My name is Shirley Smith. I am involved in a parenting dispute with Sam Smith about our two children, Sarah Smith and Stanley Smith. I would like to know whether you are able to arbitrate/mediate our dispute in the next two or three months.
“I do not have a lawyer and can be reached at …
“Sam also does not have a lawyer. He can be reached at …
“I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible, and to learning about your rates, payment and retainer expectations.”
That sort of email would be ideal. You haven’t told us anything about the nature of your disagreement, except that it involves the parenting of two children. You haven’t criticized Sam or given us any other description about the circumstances that might make Sam feel that you’d tried to influence John-Paul in your favour. You’ve also given us a sense of the timeline in which you’d like to wrap everything up, and that’s usually very helpful.
Now if you contact us by telephone, don’t be surprised if we interrupt you and ask you to put it in writing, copied to the other side. We’re not trying to be rude, we just want to protect the other person’s perception of John-Paul’s neutrality and their faith that John-Paul will resolve your dispute fairly.
Suggestions for lawyers
There’s nothing unethical about contacting us on an ex parte basis, however the same concerns about the perception of tainting and bias remain and it’s important to keep your conversation with us brief, factual and to the point. Counsel typically make this sort of contact to learn about our rates, document review processes and participation letters, canvas for conflicts and check our availability; all reasonable information to seek. (In fact, finding a date for an arbitration or mediation that works for both lawyers and both parties sometimes dictates the choice of arbitrator or mediator.)
If we should be opening a file, the basic information we’d like to get, all without impacting John-Paul’s impartiality, includes:
the names of each lawyer and their telephone numbers and email addresses;
the names of the parties;
the names and ages of the parties’ children;
a neutral description of the essence of the conflict, such as “a mobility dispute,” “the appointment of a third-party guardian,” “supervised contact and a trust claim against property” and so on, and we don’t need any more details of the dispute than that;
a neutral description of any pending events such as hearings or trials, the expiry of limitation periods or agreed deadlines, and any circumstances giving rise to urgency; and,
the name of the town or city in which any in-person conferences, meetings or hearings are likely to be held.
If contacting us in writing, please copy the other side on your email, and we will address our reply to both of you.
Please note that all communications with us should be copied to the other lawyer or, if unrepresented, the other party, and that ex parte oral communication should be avoided to the extent reasonably possible.