Jones Nickolds is committed to resolving the financial matters arising from a divorce as amicably as possible, and there are many options outside of the court process (see “YOU’VE TAKEN THE PLUNGE WHAT NEXT”)
There are, however, some circumstances where it is necessary to seek the court’s assistance – for example if one spouse is not engaging, there are issues about disclosure or you reach a stalemate about a point of principle. In those circumstances, an application can be made to the Court.
There is a Court fee associated with the application of £255. Once an application has been made, the Court will set a timetable for financial disclosure, and will list a directions hearing called a First Directions Appointment.
In terms of financial disclosure, each party is required to complete a document called a “Form E” – a detailed court form which requires supporting documentation, such as 12 months’ bank statements, pension valuations, details of any liabilities and details of your income and budget.
Once the parties have exchanged their Forms E, they have an opportunity to raise questions of each other’s disclosure in a formal Questionnaire. The Court also requires each party to prepare a list of the issues they feel need to be determined by the Court (called a Statement of Issues) and a Chronology setting out the important dates relating to the family (the date of the marriage, when any children were born, when the parties separated etc.).
Exchange of Financial disclosure and the preparation of Questionnaires, Chronologies and Statements of Issue all take place in advance of the First Directions Appointment. At the hearing, a judge will review the parties’ Questionnaires and decide any disputes about which questions must be answered. The judge will also consider whether any other directions need to be made for the case to progress – for example, whether there are any properties or businesses that need to be valued and whether any expert advice is required in relation to pensions or tax issues. The Judge will then make an Order setting out deadlines for Replies to Questionnaire and for any other relevant directions to be complied with.
The next stage in the Court process is a further hearing called a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (FDR). This is a “without prejudice” hearing at which the Judge will try to help the parties to settle financial matters by giving an indication of the likely outcome at a Final Hearing.
If a case is not settled at the FDR, none of the financial negotiations and offers that have been made can be referred to at the Final Hearing – this is designed to encourage the parties to engage in negotiations and to enable them to make appropriate concessions with a view to resolving matters and bringing the proceedings (and the associated costs) to an early end. If the parties are able to reach an agreement, that will be formalised into a binding Financial Consent Order. The vast majority of cases do settle at this stage, however, if a settlement cannot be reached, the Court will then list a Final Hearing, at which a Judge will determine the outcome.
In terms of timescale, it is likely to take between four to six months to get to the FDR stage, and, depending on which Court is dealing with a case, it can often take 12 to 18 months, or more, to reach the end of a final hearing.
At the Final Hearing the parties are usually each required to give evidence and are cross-examined. Submissions are made to the judge as to the outcome each party seeks. The judge then makes a binding final Order.
Dealing with matters though the Court can be an expensive, stressful and time-consuming process if not managed properly. Our team has extensive experience of dealing with matters within the Court process at all levels. If you require any advice in relation to reaching a financial resolution, please get in touch with us.