The Court Process
Making an application to court
The family courts have introduced a standard procedure for all financial claims. It introduces a strict timetable in order to try to shorten the length of the case and provide an end date within a reasonable time. Unfortunately, due to pressures within the court system, a fully contested case is unlikely to be concluded within a short time.
There are normally three main hearings:
• First Directions Appointment (sometimes called “First Appointment” or “FDA”)
• Financial Dispute Resolution (“FDR”)
• Final Hearing (the Trial)
At least five weeks’ before the First Appointment, you and your spouse, through solicitors, must exchange statements of your financial and other relevant circumstances. If your spouse’s statement of financial circumstances appears not to be complete disclosure and/or misleading and/or we need corroborative documents, a questionnaire can be filed seeking this.
The First Appointment is an administrative hearing. The judge will direct which questions in the questionnaires are unreasonable (if any) and give directions for any joint valuations, if disputed. He or she may also give general comments about the future direction of the case.
The case is then listed for a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (FDR). This is a crucial hearing as the judge knows the offers of settlement on each side and does his/her best to encourage both parties to settle, including giving his/her views on likely outcome to the case. More than half of cases which reach this point settle at this stage.
Exceptionally it is possible to treat the First Appointment as an FDR, but not if material disclosure of information is still needed.
If the case does not settle at the FDR, it is fixed for a Final Hearing, where oral evidence will be given and a judge will decide the outcome. The costs of pursuing an application to a Final Hearing are always very high so settlement is encouraged throughout the process. A Consent Order can be ratified by a judge whenever it is appropriate to do so.