In many cases, you will be able to reach an agreement by negotiation yourselves or with our help (through solicitor representation, mediation or collaborative law) and in these circumstances, we can draft the necessary paperwork to be approved at court. In other cases, it may be necessary to issue a financial claim at court if the parties cannot come to an agreement and to ensure that your case is resolved without undue delay.
Before you make an application to the court, it may be necessary to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to explore whether it might be appropriate and beneficial for you to mediate a solution rather than litigate. If you do end up making an application to court, the procedure is as set out below.
We issue your application. The court will set a date for a First Appointment 12 to 16 weeks later.
Five weeks prior to the First Appointment, both of you have to swear and file a statement called a Form E. This is an up to date and accurate summary of your respective financial situations. It will include detailed information and supporting documentation setting out your position. We will help you complete it. Examples of documents which will need to be attached are the last 12 months’ bank statements, recent business accounts and a valuation of your pension rights. It is never too early to start assembling this documentation and the more information you have at the outset of proceedings, the better.
Two weeks prior to the First Appointment, both of you exchange the following documents:
• Statement of issues
The statement of issues is a summary of the important aspects of your case and its purpose is to focus everybody’s attention on the issues which need to be dealt with.
The chronology provides the court with a timeline referencing any significant events which may have an effect on your financial claims.
• Questionnaire and request for documents
The questionnaire is drafted to set out any gaps in the information provided by one or other of you which may prevent your case being resolved.
Both of you have to attend the First Appointment with your legal advisors unless excused by the court. The judge will decide the extent to which the questionnaires need to be answered. Except in a very small number of cases he or she will give a date for the next court appointment which is called a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (FDR). In certain cases, the First Appointment can also be used as a FDR appointment if both of you agree.
Financial Dispute Resolution
The FDR is a without prejudice court hearing. Again, both of you and your legal advisors must attend personally. Seven days prior to the appointment, any offers for settlement which have been made must be sent to the court.
At the FDR, the Judge listens to the legal advisors and considers all the papers in the case, including the offers. He or she will try to encourage a compromise by exploring common ground and dispelling any unrealistic expectations which either of you may hold. He or she may also indicate what a court would consider to be a sensible solution for your case.
For this appointment to have a chance of being successful, both of you will have to “put your cards on the table”. With the help of your legal advisors, you must have provided all the financial information required. We will have discussed with you what is likely to be a sensible outcome to your case.
If you can reach an agreement at the FDR (and most people do) we will draw up an agreement and a judge will make a court order recording that agreement.
If you cannot reach an agreement then your case will proceed to a contested final hearing. The judge who deals with your case at a final hearing will not be the same judge who has heard the discussions at the FDR and anything mentioned at the FDR cannot be referred to at the final hearing.
Contested Final Hearing
There is usually a delay of at least four or five months (but sometimes much longer) between an FDR and a contested final hearing. Both of you will have to attend such a hearing and will need to give oral evidence and be cross-examined by your spouse or partner’s barrister.