The resolution of complex financial claims between divorcing couples is an integral part of our work. How this is best achieved will differ depending on the circumstances of your situation. Although alternative forms of dispute resolution should be considered at the outset (see our Alternatives to Court page), there will be some cases which are best resolved by recourse to court proceedings. We are able to combine effective negotiation outside the courtroom with tough litigation within it.

To start financial proceedings, an application must be issued at court. This is known as a Form A. The Form A is an application for the court to adjudicate on the financial arrangements to be made on divorce if no agreement can be reached. 

On receipt of a Form A, the court will set out a timetable for financial disclosure to be provided by both parties and a First Appointment hearing will be listed.

The First Appointment hearing

This is the first hearing in financial proceedings. It is generally used as a case management hearing in which the court sets out a timetable for the case. This can include directions for further disclosure to be provided, valuations of properties to be carried out or other expert evidence filed. The timetable will be set out in a court order and will almost invariably include a date for a Financial Dispute Resolution appointment, often three to four months later.

Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (FDR)

The FDR hearing is the second hearing in the court process. It must be attended by both parties and their legal advisers. The hearing will be conducted by a judge who will have no part to play if the case proceeds further. The judge will have before them all offers of settlement (including those which both parties have been required to make prior to the hearing) and all evidence produced before and after the First Appointment.

The purpose of the FDR is to see if it is possible for the parties to come to an overall financial settlement with judicial assistance. The FDR is a without prejudice court hearing, which means neither party can refer in open court or open correspondence to what is said during the hearing at a later stage of the proceedings. This is to encourage both sides to talk freely, thereby increasing the chances of settlement. Any offers of settlement that have been made will be seen by the FDR judge. The judge will listen to submissions from the legal advisors and consider all the papers in the case, including the settlement offers. The judge will try to encourage a compromise by exploring common ground and dispelling any unrealistic expectations either party may hold. The judge will also indicate how the court would most likely decide the case at a contested final hearing.

Frequently, but not always, agreement is reached at the FDR, and the judge can then make an order which, once complied with, will mean that the case is concluded. The FDR judge only has the power to make an order in settlement of the parties’ financial claims if both parties agree; the judge cannot impose a final order at this hearing other than by consent.  If the FDR is unsuccessful, the judge will make further directions about the way the case will be managed going forward and fix a date for a contested Final Hearing. This could be six to 12 months later, depending on the complexity of the case and availability of judges.

Final Hearing

If the case cannot be settled at or following the FDR, it will proceed to a Final Hearing. At the Final Hearing, the court will listen to the evidence of both parties and the submissions made on their behalf by their lawyers. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will deliver a judgment and make a final determination as to the financial arrangements. The majority of cases are settled and never proceed to a Final Hearing but those that do can take 18 months to two years from the date the Form A was issued.

If you require assistance, please contact us or request a call from one of our lawyers.

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Adrian Clossick, Partner, Divorce and Family, Stewarts