When couples divorce, if they are unable to agree on how their assets should be split, the Court can be asked to determine how their resources should be divided. This is when financial proceedings begin and there will usually be three main hearings within this process - although the parties will be encouraged to reach an agreement at every stage.
There are usually three Court hearings within finance proceedings following divorce:
The First Directions Appointment is a case management hearing, where a Judge will give directions for the future conduct of the case.
Issues are summarised for the Court and then the Judge will use his or her powers to control and move the case forward.
There will be an attempt to narrow the issues, and so reduce costs. For example, if the parties cannot agree what their assets are worth, expert valuations may be required. If there are complicated pensions or business assets involved, it may be necessary to get a report from an expert about how these might be divided, or buy-outs funded.
Often, directions can be agreed, but if not, your lawyers will put the case to the Judge, who will decide what should happen.
If a case is not settled at the first hearing, the second hearing will be scheduled.
Effectively, the Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing will involve the Judge giving his or her indication of how they would decide the case. It is designed to help the parties reach an agreement, although no decision can be imposed on them. Judges often give robust advice and might be said to be attempting to bang the parties’ heads together to help them reach a settlement.
This second hearing is entirely privileged – which means that the Judge cannot hear any Final Hearing if the case isn’t settled. Whatever is discussed at this hearing cannot be relied on at a later date. Therefore, if agreement is not possible, a date will be set for the final hearing before a different Judge.
At the Final Hearing, each party, or their lawyers, will put their best case forward, and both parties will usually be required to give evidence. Having heard all the representations and evidence, the Judge will decide how the parties’ assets will be divided, and whether either should be obliged to continue to provide an income to the other.
Throughout proceedings, directions hearings can be arranged. These are shorter hearings, normally where one party seeks a directions that their spouse do something particular, i.e. a directions that a party produce evidence.
There is the opportunity to settle your case from the moment financial proceedings begin, even at Court before the hearing itself and right up until the final hearing. Should you and your spouse reach agreement, you will ask the Judge to approve it.
The short answer is, no, as Ant McPartlin found recently when he was criticised by a Judge, the Honourable Mr Justice Mostyn, for not attending a Court hearing dealing with the financial claims between him and his soon to be ex-wife, Lisa Armstrong.
Whilst Ant apologised, saying he’d been told by his lawyer that he didn’t have to attend, and meant no disrespect, his non-attendance could have had consequences in terms of possible delay, and even who picks up the bill for the hearing.
Yes, if you receive notification of a hearing you have to be there, unless it is agreed by everyone that you do not need to be. As Ant found to his cost, unless there is a good reason, you run the risk of incurring the wrath of the judge, and non-attendance may well result in unnecessary delay and cost.
Financial proceedings are complex and there is a significant amount of work to undertake before and during a hearing and, usually, even afterwards! It is important to get expert legal advice to ensure that the outcome doesn’t come as a nasty surprise.
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