The court rules state that parties should try to negotiate a settlement without going to court as far as is possible. Unless there are specific exemptions available to you, you will be asked to attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting before a court application can be issued. Parties are asked to provide full and accurate disclosure of all their financial circumstances with documentation in support to the other.
In the event that they are unable to agree a resolution of all the issues either between themselves or in mediation or by other negotiation a court application would be necessary. The court rules require a number of stages to be completed before it will finally hear the matter.
Stage 1: Issue of financial application
The claim is activated by applying for financial remedies using a Form A and payment of a court fee. The court will set a date for the first hearing called the first directions appointment (FDA) and will send notification of the proceedings to both parties.
Stage 2: preparation and first directions appointment
The FDA will normally be 2 to 3 months from the date of issue of the Form A. 35 days before the FDA, both parties must exchange a Financial Statement called a Form E that sets out their financial circumstances with documentary evidence in support. 14 days before the FDA, both parties must serve on the other party and file with the court the following documents:-
- Questionnaire: raising requests for information and documentation not dealt with by the Form E;
- Statement of issues: a document setting out to the court what they consider to be the main issues in the case;
- A Schedule of costs; and
- A statement saying whether they are ready to negotiate at the first hearing.
At the FDA, the court will consider the paperwork and direct answers to be filed in respect of the questionnaire and order valuations that may be necessary of any assets. The court’s aim is to put the case in good order for it to proceed. The court will also consider if the matter should be listed for Stage 3 or go straight to a final hearing. Cases are normally listed for a Stage 3, which is called the financial dispute resolution appointment (FDR).
Stage 3: Financial dispute resolution appointment
This will normally take place 2 months after the FDA and is a negotiation exercise. Parties should have complied with all directions given at the FDA by this hearing and will be required to attend court to try to negotiate a settlement. 14 days before the FDR, parties must lodge with the court a schedule of all settlement offers that have been made prior to the hearing. This allows the court to be aware of each side’s respective position. The court will assist the parties in trying to negotiate a settlement at this hearing. The court cannot make any orders at this hearing, unless both parties agree. If an agreement cannot be reached at the hearing, the court will set a date for a final contested hearing where evidence will be heard.
Stage 4: Final hearing
14 days prior to the final hearing, the person that made the application originally must file with the court a statement of their open proposals setting out the orders they would wish the court to make. 7 days after this, the other party must provide their own statement of the orders they are asking the court to make. The hearing will then take place where evidence is given by both parties and any witnesses. After hearing the evidence, the court will make an order. The judge that deals with this hearing cannot be the same judge that has dealt with the FDR appointment.
How long will the matter take?
The court process normally takes up to 12 months from the date of issue of the Form A, although delays can happen for various reasons.
What are consent orders?
The parties can reach a negotiated settlement at any stage during the proceedings. This should be incorporated into an agreed order signed by all the parties and filed with the court.