Divorce is the legal dissolution or termination of a marriage and making the decision to opt for a divorce is not an easy one – it is an upsetting and unsettling time for all involved.
Financial settlement in divorce can add to the stress, with worries about money and what will happen to the family home, adding to the emotional turmoil often involved at the end of a relationship. If you are getting divorced you will need to have detailed discussions about the financial aspects of your split.
A financial settlement can be worked out in many ways. Some couples will reach a private agreement and will only instruct a solicitor to ensure that the agreement is converted into a properly worded ‘consent order’, to ensure it is final and binding. Others will opt for alternative methods, such as mediation, round table meetings, collaborative law and arbitration. We always recommend trying to avoid going to court but in some cases, the only option to resolve financial disputes is with an application to the court.
Knowing what to expect with a court hearing, known as a financial dispute resolution (FDR) appointment, can help you to prepare for what may be ahead.
Step 1: Applying to court
As mentioned above, if you cannot come to an agreement about how your finances will be split upon ending your marriage, you may need to go to court. Either you or your spouse will need to make an application to the court by completing a form, known as Form A.
When the court receive Form A, they will send a timetable to both you and your spouse, notifying you of what is going to happen next.
Please also note that there is a fee involved in submitting Form A to the court.
Step 2: Form E
A form E is a comprehensive document akin to a questionnaire, in which each party sets out full details of their finances, with those details supported by clearly identified documents. The form is rather extensive, covering 28 pages of questions and can appear daunting. We always recommend having a legal expert on board to help complete this form to ensure it is accurate and therefore more likely to be accepted in court, which will make the whole process faster.
You will need to submit a copy of the completed form to your spouse and the court a minimum of 35 days before your first court hearing is scheduled.
If you or your spouse have any queries regarding the details in each other’s form Es, you can prepare a questionnaire of questions to be asked.
Step 3: First Hearing
At a First Directions Appointment (FDA), discussions will take place with the Judge as to what additional information is required before the case is ready to proceed to the next stage, if any.
The court can make various directions to enable any disputes to be resolved at this stage, that each party may have to comply with. These could include an order to get a property valued or for any further questionnaires to be answered and exchanged by a certain date.
This hearing can sometimes be used as an FDR hearing, if matters are relatively simple and an agreement is reached, meaning there is no need to proceed with the expense of further court hearings.
Step 4: The FDR Hearing
The FDR hearing is the second court hearing. You, your spouse and your solicitors will be required to attend.
At this stage, you and your spouse should have all the financial information you need to feel comfortable reaching a settlement and many cases do settle at this stage. The purpose of the FDR hearing is to encourage discussion and negotiation, to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement on the day. It is important to consider this hearing as an opportunity to settle, as reaching a resolution at this stage could save considerable further expense compared to if matters need to proceed to a Final Hearing.
During the hearing, the Judge will generally give an indication as to which elements of each parties position he prefers and the decision he would make if the matter was at Final Hearing stage.
The FDR hearing is ‘without prejudice’ to either spouse’s position at any Final Hearing. This means that if matters cannot be agreed, the Judge who hears the FDR is not permitted to hear the Final Hearing.
Step 5: The Final Hearing
It is during the Final Hearing that a Judge will make a decision about what your financial settlements will look like.
You and your spouse will be required to give evidence under oath and may be questioned by the other parties legal representatives.
The Judge can make a number of orders – including the sharing of a pension, the sale of a property, and the payment of a lump sum.
For more information or if you are considering commencing divorce proceedings and need some advice, please contact our Family Law team on 01603 677077.