What to expect at a Financial First Directions Appointment

Unless a divorce settlement is quickly agreed between the parties then one of them is likely to apply to the court for a ‘financial remedies’ order, whereby the court will decide upon the settlement.

Financial remedies applications follow a procedure set down by the rules, and it is important to understand how the procedure works. What follows assumes that the parties are not able to reach an agreement along the way – if they do, then obviously the case comes to an end.

The first thing to understand is that the procedure does not involve just one court hearing, at which the court will make its final decision. In fact, there may be several hearings before the final one, depending upon the complexity of the case.

The first hearing, which will be fixed by the court when it receives the financial remedies application, is the ‘First Directions Appointment’, or ‘FDA’ for short. Both parties will have to attend the FDA.

Before we explain what an FDA is, we need to look at what must be done between the issuing of the application and the FDA.

Perhaps the most important thing that each party must do is prepare a detailed statement of their finances (known as a ‘Form E’), and send copies of the statement to the court and the other party. The point is that no settlement can be ordered or agreed unless the financial circumstances of both parties are fully disclosed.

Of course, you don’t have to accept the contents of the other party’s Form E at face value. They may, for example, have omitted certain assets. Accordingly, the rules allow each party to prepare a questionnaire for the other party to answer, requesting further information relating to the other party’s finances.

So we come to the FDA.

The rules state that the FDA “must be conducted with the objective of defining the issues and saving costs.” In other words, the court will want to know what matters are in dispute between the parties, and therefore have to be decided by the court – reducing the job of the court in this way will hopefully shorten the case, and therefore reduce the costs of the parties.

To this end, the court will give directions as to what should happen next in the case. Exactly what directions it gives will vary from one case to another, but the following directions are made in most cases:

1. A direction setting out which questions in the questionnaires must be answered.

2. Directions regarding the valuation of assets, for example that the parties should agree who should value the former matrimonial home.

3. Directions as to what evidence each party may produce (you can’t simply produce any evidence without the court’s permission).

4. In a case where a pension order is requested, a direction that the party with the pension provide details of the pension.

5. Lastly, directions as to what should happen next in the proceedings. For example, unless the court considers it will not be appropriate, it will usually fix a ‘Financial Dispute Resolution’ (‘FDR’) appointment, at which the parties will be expected to try to negotiate a settlement, with the help of the judge. If an FDR is not appropriate then the court may fix a date for a final hearing.

The FDA is an important step in the process of a financial remedies application, and it is thus essential that anyone required to attend one first seeks expert legal advice. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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