What is the court process to resolve finances on divorce or dissolution
Is the court process to resolve finances on divorce or dissolution as daunting as we think? Whilst Court proceedings are avoided where necessary, there are times when we advise our clients to make a financial application through the court, especially where the parties are clearly not going to be able to reach an agreement, or where the other party simply will not engage. Whilst we deal with these applications on a daily basis, it can be a particularly daunting prospect for clients, especially when they have never been through the court process before.
Below is an overview of the court process to resolve finances on divorce or dissolution.
- The application is made by completing a “Notice of [intention to proceed with] a financial application to which the standard procedure applies” – commonly known by the court as Form A. Form A sets out the claims you are making, the details of any relevant land or property and, where a Pension Order is sought, the terms of the Order requested. Form A is sent to the Court together with the Court fee of £255.00.
- The Court will send a copy of Form A to the Respondent within 4 days of this being filed. At the same time the Court will send to the Applicant and to the Respondent details of the First Appointment, which will be not less than 12 weeks and not more than 16 weeks after the date that the Notice is filed.
- Form A must be served on any mortgagee and any relevant Pension Scheme Administrator.
- The Court will set out the timetable for the steps that must be taken before the First Appointment.
These steps are:
- Financial Disclosure must be provided by both parties using a Financial Statement Form – commonly – commonly known by the court as Form E, the contents of which must be signed with a Statement of Truth. This must be filed and exchanged not less than 35 days before the date of the First Appointment.
- At least 14 days before the First Appointment each party must file and serve a concise Statement of the Issues between the parties, a Chronology, a Questionnaire setting out the further information and documents requested from the other party (or a Statement that no Information and Documents are required) and a Notice (commonly known as Form G) stating whether or not the First Appointment may be used as an FDR Appointment (see below). Form G will be sent to the parties by the court for completion. We can assist you in completing all the documents required for this process.
- Both parties must attend at the First Appointment. The purpose of this hearing is to define the issues and to save costs. The District Judge will decide whether each party must provide further information or documents and what other evidence is necessary. If it has not already been dealt with, the Court will often direct a jointly instructed expert to value any assets.
- If both parties are satisfied that the financial disclosure provided is sufficient, then the First Appointment may be used as a Financial Dispute Resolution (“FDR”) Appointment. If the disclosure is not sufficient, then in most cases, the Court will fix a separate date for an FDR Appointment, which will be about 2 to 4 months after the date of the First Appointment.
- The FDR is an unusual and significant hearing. It is essentially a hearing that involves Judge-led Mediation and is a meeting held for the purposes of discussion and negotiation. This means that the Judge who deals with the FDR will have details of all offers and proposals (including any “Without Prejudice” proposals) and as a result will not have any further involvement with the case after this hearing. All written offers must be lodged with the Court at least 7 days before the hearing. Both parties must attend the FDR.
- Most cases settle before, at, or shortly after the FDR. At the hearing the Judge will give some indication regarding appropriate terms of settlement, which often has the benefit of enabling settlement negotiations to be concluded. If an agreement can be reached, this will either be recorded in “Heads of Agreement” which can be approved while at Court, or, where possible, a final Consent Order may be drafted at Court and approved by the Judge.
- If the parties are represented, at each hearing they must provide an estimate of the costs incurred up to that date and must file a copy of this with the Court.
- If no agreement has been reached by the conclusion of the FDR, then the case will be listed for a final hearing. The final hearing will usually take between half a day and two days and there is usually a delay of about 3-6 months between the FDR and the final hearing. At the final hearing the parties will be required to give evidence and be cross-examined regarding this, as will any witnesses, and the Judge will then make a decision regarding the terms of a financial Order.
- Taking into account the normal periods between hearings, the overall timescale for an application to the Court is 3 months from the date of issue of your Form A until the First Appointment, a further 3 months from the First Appointment to the FDR, and a further 3-6 months from the FDR to the final hearing, an overall estimate of 9-12 months. If it is possible to deal with the First Appointment as an FDR, then the overall timescale is reduced to 6-9 months.
In dealing with all financial cases the Courts’ overriding objective is to deal with cases justly, which means as far as practicable:
- Ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing,
- Saving expense,
- Dealing with the case in ways that are proportionate to the amount of money involved, the importance of the case, the complexity of the issues and the financial position of each party.
- Ensuring that it is dealt with expeditiously and fairly,
- Allotting to it an appropriate share of the Court’s resources.
To further the overriding objective the Court will actively manage cases, which means in practice identifying issues at an early date, encouraging parties to cooperate and settle, regulating the extent of disclosure and fixing timetables to control the progress of the case.
Contact our specialist Family lawyers in Sevenoaks, Brighton & Hove and Uckfield
If you are thinking about making an application to the court to resolve finances on divorce or dissolution, please do get in touch with one of our family team who can offer a free initial consultation to discuss your options and costs. If you require advice and assistance please contact Michelle Hardstone. E. firstname.lastname@example.org or T. 01825 744405