Hannah Pike, trainee solicitor in Harrison Drury’s divorce and family law team, discusses the Family Court procedure which is followed to resolve the financial and property issues arising from a divorce.
It is a common misconception that financial and property issues are resolved automatically as part of divorce proceedings. However, this is not the case, and often the divorce proceedings will be the most straightforward part of the legal process.
The divorce proceedings legally end your marriage. The division of finances between the divorcing couple is dealt with separately. These separate proceedings are known as financial remedy proceedings and often run parallel to the divorce. Financial remedy proceedings are issued if it is not possible to agree the terms of a financial settlement by negotiation.
If it is possible to agree how your assets should be divided, you still need to formally record your agreement with the Court to ensure that it is binding. For further information see our blog post : How do I make our financial settlement legally binding?
If you are not able to resolve financial matters out of court, then you or your spouse will need to initiate financial remedy proceedings.
Issuing divorce proceedings
Before the court will consider an application for financial remedy, the divorce proceedings must have been started.
Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM)
When applying to the courts for financial remedy, in most cases the courts will need to see evidence that you have attended a MIAM to determine whether mediation is appropriate in your case. Mediation is a voluntary process, so you are not required to attend mediation with your former spouse if you do not wish to do so. However you must at least attend a MIAM to demonstrate to the Court that you have considered resolving your dispute by way of mediation.
If mediation is not suitable for your case, then it is not necessary to attend a MIAM. Your solicitor will be able to advise you if it is necessary to attend a MIAM in your particular case.
Submitting Form A and receiving Notice of First Appointment
To initiate court proceedings, an application for financial remedy will be submitted to the court together with the court fee. You will then receive a Notice of First Appointment that contains the date of your first court hearing, together with details of steps to take to prepare your case for your first Court hearing.
Preparing and exchanging Form E
One of these steps will be to complete your Form E. This is a financial statement that must be completed by both of you detailing your assets such as property, savings, liabilities, and income. It will also need to include various supporting documents as evidence of your financial position such as bank statements, property valuations and wage slips.
The Form E and documents are then ‘exchanged’, and you will each receive each other’s form and documentation at the same time.
Each of you can then raise questions of the other’s financial disclosure in a questionnaire, which must be prepared by the date specified by the court.
Attending the First Direction Appointment (FDA)
This is the first of three court hearings. The purpose of this hearing is to agree the further information, documentation and evidence which is required in your case. If it is not possible to reach an agreement then the Court will make decisions on the further information, documentation and evidence it needs to progress your case to the next stage.
If both parties are satisfied that all information, documentation and evidence has already been supplied then this first appointment can be used as the Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearing.
Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) – the final chance to reach an agreement
Prior to the FDR, you both need to make an open offer so the judge can understand how each of you propose to divide your assets and the reasons for your proposals. The FDR is usually the second of three hearings. It is often possible to agree terms of settlement at this hearing and bring the proceedings to a conclusion.
This is due to the judge taking an active role in the case. At the FDR, the judge will provide an indication as to how your case should be settled. The judge will also remind you of the associated costs for proceeding to a final hearing.
The judge’s indication usually encourages productive negotiations in a bid to reach a fair settlement and avoid the risks and costs of a final hearing. If you are unable to reach an agreement at this stage, a new judge will be allocated to the case for the final hearing.
Final Hearing – the judge makes a final decision
This is the last stage of the financial remedy proceedings. A date for a final hearing will be received and the ‘day in court’ has arrived – but what does this actually involve?
The final stage is essentially a trial. The judge will listen to all the evidence and make a final decision. Both of you will be required to give evidence and your legal representatives will have the opportunity to cross-examine by asking questions.
You should be mindful that, at the final hearing, the judge has the power to force a transfer or sale of a property, order the payment of a lump sum and/or spousal maintenance and share pensions.
If you can agree terms of settlement before a final hearing you should do so, to avoid the costs and uncertainty of the outcome of a final hearing.
If you require any further advice regarding financial remedy proceedings or to seek specialist legal advice, please contact Harrison Drury’s family law team on 01772 258321.