Court proceedings are generally seen as a last resort when all other options of dispute resolution have failed. If mediation has either been tried and was unsuccessful or was unable to take place for some reason, e.g. Domestic Abuse, then an application can be made for your case to be heard at a family court, where they will decide on the matter on your behalf. Family Courts can hear cases about what happens to the children after a couple has separated and or the financial elements involved in the separation.

Please click here for further information if you want to know more about child arrangements and the family court.

If you wish to start court proceedings in relation to the division of assets and finances, please click here.

If you need to start your divorce application, please click here.

What happens when I make an application to the Family Court?

When making an application to the court to hear matters of a financial nature, the party seeking the court’s intervention must submit Form A and pay the court fee to the court that will be dealing with the divorce and can be sent at any time after the divorce petition/application has been filed. Once the courts have received this, they will issue proceedings and notify your ex-partner.

If you require a Form A, you will first need to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with an accredited family mediatorTo find out more about family mediation and mediation information assessment meetings, please visit our family mediation page.

What is a Form E?  

Once this has been done, the court requires both parties to fill out Form E (sometimes referred to as financial disclosure). This is a lengthy financial statement where parties must disclose all information about their assets. This includes all properties or property shares, pensions, investments, valuable items, bank accounts and all documents pertaining to these assets. The completed Form E from both yourself and your ex-partner must be sent to the court at least 35 days before the first court hearing is due.

Because the Form E is so comprehensive, it ensures that the court making the decision has all of the information regarding assets and that the decisions made are fair. It also provides total transparency for both parties to see exactly what the other one has got in the hope that a settlement can be negotiated before a full hearing. Parties must disclose everything in the Form E as this is an official court document. Failure to disclose any assets could result in you being in contempt of court. If this were to happen, you could face imprisonment, a substantial fine, and all the court costs.

What is a First Directions Appointment (FDA)?

After the court received the Form A, a First Directions Appointment (FDA) would have been made, usually between 12-16 weeks, to give time for the Form E to be completed and returned to the court. It is hoped that in the FDA, the issues surrounding the parties can be defined, helped by the Form E’s and what the parties have disclosed to see where there are disagreements and potentially how these disagreements can be resolved. An example of this would be disagreements over the value of something, i.e. a property or object, in which case the court may order the appointment of a joint valuer.

If both parties agree, the FDA can be used as a platform for further negotiation. Sometimes, an agreement can be reached at this hearing preventing any further involvement of the courts. If this is not an option or does not happen, the parties involved will also be able to raise a questionnaire where they feel that documents or information may be missing. The court then makes directions as to what more needs to be provided in terms of documentation or information regarding these questions. It sets a date by which a response must be made about these queries.

If the court has ordered that a questionnaire is to be completed in the FDA, it means that they feel there are gaps within the Form E or that insufficient information has been provided to ensure that it is a fair process for both parties. Once both parties have done this and the replies have been exchanged with both individuals involved, there is still the opportunity to negotiate and reach an agreement without going back to court.

What happens if negotiations fail?

If any agreements up until this point have failed to be reached, then a Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (FDR) takes place. This allows both parties to openly discuss matters and negotiate further with the judge’s assistance. The court will have all of the financial disclosures of the parties as well as any settlement offers that have already been made. As the judge has all of the information at their disposal at this point, they can often indicate the likely outcome at a final hearing. This is not binding in any way but can be helpful to the parties to have this independent view of the case at this stage and help the parties to reach an agreement of their own accord.

All negotiations at this point are ‘Without Prejudice’, meaning that they cannot be referred to in any way if an agreement is not reached and it is required to go to a Final Hearing. Likewise, the judge present at the FDR cannot sit at the Final Hearing. If an agreement is reached at this stage, then the judge can endorse it and make any agreements reached into a legally binding order.

In cases where they have not been able to settle either at or before the FDR, a Final Hearing must occur where the judge will decide on behalf of the individuals involved. During this hearing, both parties have to give evidence under oath and questions are posed to them from the opposite side’s legal team. Considering the evidence presented, the judge will make their decision, and an order will be made. The order can pertain to several things, including property transfer, sale of property and valuable items, lump sum payments, pension divisions and maintenance for an ex-partner etc.

Alternatives to the family courts

There are many ways outside of the court process which can support with the separation of assets and finances during a separation and/or divorce.

They include:

Mediation – This is when parties attend a meeting with a trained, accredited family mediator who facilitates the discussion between the parties. They have a range of skills to ensure that parties reach a mutual agreement which works for the long-term.

Arbitration – This is when parties submit a dispute to one or more arbitrators, who then make a decision on the dispute. The decision is binding.

Solicitor Negotiation – This is also known as solicitor-led negotiation, which can be used at any point during the court process. The solicitor acts on the wishes of the party.

Collaborative Law – This is where the separated or divorcing parties and their solicitors work together to make a mutual agreement.

For more information about alternative dispute resolution, please visit our resource – What Types of Alternative Dispute Resolution are there?

How can Access Mediation Services help?

Access Mediation Services, as it says in our name, is a mediation provider. Not only do we provide family mediation but also civil, workplace, and disability.

Our family mediation service enables parties to reach a mutual agreement as amicably as possible without the need for stressful and expensive court processes. The mediator helps each party to understand one another’s points of view, needs and wishes and is also there to reality test the agreements which are being agreed to ensure that they last the test of time. To find out more about our national family mediation service, please click here.

We hope you found this resource useful. If you want to resolve your assets and finances through family mediation as an alternative to court proceedings and want to find out more information, you may wish to book a free consultation.

We hope you have enjoyed this resource and that it has been beneficial to you. Just a gentle reminder that all of the content on this website including resources, blogs, articles and content on web pages, is prohibited from being used or copied in any public domain unless stated otherwise. Access Mediation Services is also not responsible for the accuracy of these resources nor responsible for how people use the information we provide in this information.

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