An FDA is one of the procedural aspects in a court case of sorting out finances on dissolution or divorce.
Once Forms E’s have been completed and exchanged (simultaneously, so that one party does not adjust what is in their document in light of what they have read in the other’s).
You need then to work carefully through your partner’s Form E.
At this stage you’re trying to ensure you understand exactly what the financial position is for them, and this may mean that you need to ask for missing information, query unusual transactions or consider whether there are assets which need valuing by an expert.
Often, there are quite a few questions you both want to ask of each other.
You will ask these questions in a Questionnaire which you will send to the other person before the first court appointment.
If they have any objection to answering any of the questions, the judge will decide at that first hearing whether they should be answered or not.
In addition, before the first court hearing, you or your solicitor will prepare a short statement of the major issues that you and your spouse or civil partner cannot agree on, and which impact on the way your assets or income should be dealt with.
They will also prepare a chronology of the relationship setting out the timing of key events which assists the judge to get the “big picture” and see at a glance when children were born, properties purchased or businesses started, amongst other things.
The final document prepared and filed at court is a summary of the legal costs you each have incurred so far.
(In some cases, it is possible to combine the FDA with the FDR appointment and start negotiating towards possible settlement outcomes.
This might happen if, for example, each of you is content that you understand the full financial picture and no further evidence is needed.
The purpose of the FDA is to decide what more information you both need, and the court needs, before the two of you can start to negotiate properly and the court process can get to the stage where it can offer you some assistance.
The FDA is often described as “just” a procedural hearing, but is important in legal terms as it deals with the management of your case: the evidence and timetable.
Family cases are all unique, and if your case is very tricky or high-value then you may find yourself travelling to London for hearings in either the High Court or the Central Family Court.
However, most family court work is heard at your local county court.
Family cases about money are usually heard by district judges, while children’s arrangements are often dealt with by lay justices of the family court (do check with your solicitor if you are not sure what level of judge is hearing your case).
It doesn’t matter which level of judge or justices deal with your case as all have the power to make orders of the family court with equivalent enforceability.
There are no juries in family cases (juries are only used in serious criminal trials in the crown court) and the judge alone makes the decision.
District judges are lawyers of considerable experience and expertise.
In family cases, they do not wear judicial robes. The hearing is often more informal that people expect, although judges command significant respect and the hearing will follow a set course, with each party speaking in a particular order.
In a family case, the person making the application (the applicant) or a solicitor/barrister on their behalf speaks first to tell the judge what they are asking him or her to do.
The other person (the respondent) or their legal representative then has a chance to put their case. Often, the judge will ask particular questions of one side or another, taking a more active role in the case than you might expect. In some cases, the judge will hear evidence from both sides and also from any independent or jointly-instructed experts if relevant, before making the decision.
Unless the judge is hearing evidence, if you have a lawyer representing you, you are unlikely to have to speak to the judge. Sometimes, if the appointment is a final hearing, the judge will take time to think about and write his or her judgment. In most cases, the judge’s decision is made and communicated before the parties leave the courtroom, although it will take a while to receive the order on paper from the court.
It is important for you as it may be the first time you go to a court hearing.
The usual practice is that everybody gets to court in good time to allow the lawyers to have discussions in order to try to agree case management directions and reduce the time actually spent before the judge.
Often, many of the directions can be agreed (for example a timetable for preparing replies to each other’s questionnaires), but if not, both lawyers will have to put their case to the judge, who will make decisions.
The case management directions will cover such things as:
- which questions of the questionnaires prepared by both parties will be answered, and by when;
- whether there should be any valuations obtained for properties, other assets or business interests, who the valuer(s) will be and what exactly they should be valuing, and by when;
- whether there needs to be any accountancy evidence concerning, for example, liquidity within businesses, and if so the terms of instruction for the accountant; and
- the timetable for the case between the first hearing and the next court appointment, the FDR, and the date for the FDR hearing (which may be fixed by the court or the court office).
In most cases if the court needs valuation evidence or any other kind of report from an expert to help resolve a dispute between you, the expert is likely to be instructed by both sides to form an independent opinion to assist the court. In very complex cases, the court may allow people to instruct their own experts to present opinions to support their own cases, but this is rare because of the increased costs and court time involved.
The FDA appointment is sometimes referred to as a “housekeeping appointment”. As with many aspects of keeping house (and other domestic chores) its significance can be overlooked as the court makes no decisions about financial outcomes, but it is essential to get the rules for managing your case in place so that matters can run smoothly.
Between the FDA and the next court hearing, the FDR, you and your solicitor will be doing a lot of work responding to questionnaires, and dealing with obtaining expert evidence, so that your case is in the best shape it can be and stands a good chance of enabling you to achieve a settlement before or at the next court appointment.