What is the Alternative Courtroom?

It is a better way - a way to separate sensibly.
• Property issues can be resolved quickly by leading family lawyers who act as arbitrators at a modest fixed price – a fraction of what it costs to go to court. The decision is then registered with the Court and is as binding as a court order.
• Parties can choose their own arbitrator.
• Cases can be resolved within weeks.
• The process can be adapted to meet the needs of the case.
• Hearings can be held at a fixed time and place, or, if everyone agrees, a hearing could take place by phone or video-conference.
• Arrangements for a hearing can be made to suit everyone concerned.

Family law arbitration is different from mediation, because while mediation is a way to structure negotiations between the parties, arbitration offers a final decision - just like a court.

The Family Court supports the use of arbitration to resolve property matters – it can save the cost and stress of waiting up to two years for a trial.

Family law arbitration in the news

Arbitration could relieve busy family courts: Chief Justice
The Age, July 30th 2016, p. 8 & Sydney Morning Herald

The future of the Family Court
The Age, July 30th 2016

In September 2017, a new international arbitration scheme was launched, which is closely associated with The Alternative Courtroom.
The launch of international family law arbitration

Peter Magee, Arbitrate family law cases to save time, money
The Australian, November 24 2017


Mowbray and Sampson was heard in February 2017 only about 6 weeks (excluding public holidays) after the details of the arbitration were settled by the Federal Circuit Court. The decision was delivered within just over two weeks of the hearing. The case gave rise to some legal issues, which are described here.

Mowbray and Sampson

Mayfield and Horne was heard in September 2017, with the decision being handed down within five days of the hearing. It raised issues concerning the assessment of contributions in a case where the couple have come together later in life, had no children together and kept their finances separate. The decision is summarised here.

Mayfield and Horne

Arran and Arran was heard in June 2018, with the decision being handed down within a week. It raised issues concerning addbacks, gambling losses, and contributions by other family members. . The decision is summarised here.

Arran and Arran


The normal timetable for The Alternative Courtroom provides for the hearing to be scheduled within 8 weeks and a decision given within a week or two afterwards.

Arbitration can also be used to deal with interim issues swiftly.

It can take two years in some parts of Australia to get to a trial in court to resolve a family law dispute.


Parties can agree to allow the arbitrator to deal with the case without needing to apply all the rules of evidence.

Where there is no need for oral evidence and cross-examination, a decision can be made after a brief hearing for submissions and clarification of issues.


Cases can be dealt with quickly, with the aid of online processes. Lawyers can still present their client's case, but time and money is not expended in procedural hearings at court, or vying with other litigants to get trial dates.

The Process

The Alternative Courtroom (TAC) takes cases prepared by lawyers, and can conduct hearings in NSW, Victoria or the ACT, or anywhere in the country through video or phone conference.

Step 1: Each lawyer fills in a brief questionnaire online to explain about the issues in the case and what length of hearing will be needed.

Step 2: An arbitrator is either agreed by the parties or assigned by TAC. Parties need to sign an agreement for that person to arbitrate and pay an initial fee prior to the commencement of the arbitration.

Step 3: The lawyers upload the relevant documents to the website (e.g. financial statement and balance sheet).

Step 4: The arbitrator conducts a preliminary conference by telephone to determine the process and to identify any further evidence that needs to be provided.

Step 5: The arbitrator conducts a hearing in person, by video-conference or telephone. The hearing will be recorded. The hearings will be in University moot court rooms or other suitable premises in Sydney, Canberra or Melbourne.

Step 6: The arbitrator gives a written decision, ordinarily within two weeks of the hearing.

Step 7: A party registers the decision in the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court.

Step 8: 28 days later, it takes effect as if it were a decree of the Court.