‘The judge does not make a final decision, but instead tries to encourage the couple to reach an agreement. It provides an opportunity for everyone to gather in court to discuss all the financial issues and to seek the guidance from an experienced judge on the legal position. Most disputes can be resolved at this stage, without the need for a final hearing,’ says Peter Lewis, Partner and Head of Family Law at QualitySolicitors Parkinson Wright.
How to prepare for a financial dispute resolution hearing
Prior to the hearing you will have provided proof of all your financial assets and liabilities, as well as having completed Form E which outlines the relevant considerations for the court, such as your future financial needs and the needs of any children. You will also see your former spouse’s financial information and their Form E.
It is important to provide full disclosure of your assets, and you should be satisfied that you have seen a full disclosure of your former spouse’s finances. Any queries over missing information should be dealt with in advance of the hearing and can be raised by your lawyer in a questionnaire to your former spouse.
Having discussed the financial information with your lawyer, you may have put forward or received a proposal to settle. If offers have been rejected, then the judge will need to be made aware of the details. The judge is then able to tailor their advice and guidance to each party appropriately.
The financial dispute resolution hearing, by its very nature, will only be successful if both people are willing to settle. In advance of the hearing, you should consider where you feel you could be more flexible. If you are intent on buying out your former spouse’s interest in an asset, for example the family home, then you may also need to come prepared with what finances you can raise to do so. Being open minded and prepared to consider creative solutions will be of benefit.
It can be a long day at the court hearing, so it is best to make sure you have booked the day off work and that you have made appropriate childcare arrangements. On a practical front, bringing water and snacks to court can also be a good idea.
What happens at the hearing?
On the morning of your hearing, you will usually meet with your lawyer. They will take your updated instructions and discuss potential outcomes.
You will not be expected to give any evidence, as your lawyer will put your case to the judge. Your former spouse’s case will also be put to the judge.
The judge will raise any questions or queries they have with the lawyers. In some situations, it will be clear to a judge from what is said, and from the previous offers made, that one party is behaving unreasonably. The judge can highlight their views on this in the hope of encouraging a more rational approach.
The judge will then outline what they would do with the case if they were making a decision about it on that day. This is an indication from the judge, not a final decision.
The judge normally allows the parties some time to engage in further discussions outside of the courtroom. Quite often, hearing an objective independent judge’s opinion is enough for people to be able to reach an agreement.
The discussions will be undertaken by the two lawyers involved. You will not be expected to discuss the matter directly with your former partner. The judge will normally be available should any further issues arise out of the negotiations.
If a resolution is reached, then the lawyers can draft an agreement for each party to sign which can be placed before the judge for approval and made into a final order.
What if we cannot reach agreement at the hearing?
If no agreement can be reached at this stage, then your case will be listed for a final hearing in front of a different judge. The discussions that occurred at the financial dispute resolution hearing will not be disclosed to the new judge.
You will be expected to give evidence at the final hearing, and this time the judge will make a final decision on what is to happen.
It is sensible to continue to try and reach a settlement before the final hearing. If a settlement can be achieved it will save you considerably in relation to costs. It can also save time, as there is normally several months between a financial dispute resolution hearing and a final hearing date.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.