Marilyn Stowe’s comprehensive ebook guide to the every aspect of divorce and separation is now in its second edition.
In this extract, she looks at the first appointment and the process of completing your Form E, the comprehensive financial statement which each party in a divorce must complete. It is a sworn statement to the family court.
This is a lengthy document, designed to give full and frank disclosure of their financial positions and future requirements. There will usually be a number of questions arising following the exchange of each party’s Form E, which takes place 35 days later. There will be other information to obtain, such as valuations of assets if the parties cannot agree what the assets are worth. However the court decides what questions and valuations are required. In practice many parties do agree but in more complicated cases, when both sides want pages of questions answered and a host of valuations, the court is the final arbiter.
Before the hearing the parties must exchange draft questionnaires. These contain queries about the other party’s Form E. Each party will also file a chronology with relevant events and dates, and a statement of issues setting out what they believe to be the relevant matters for the court to consider. These documents should give the judge an idea of where each party is coming from. A schedule of costs for both sides, giving details of legal fees to date, will also be taken into account by the judge.
The First Appointment is usually a fairly short hearing, which takes place in a private room rather than a traditional courtroom. Usually the judge sits at the head of a table, dressed in everyday clothes. The lawyers and clients sit either side. The parties, unless representing themselves, do not speak.
The judge will consider what, if any, additional information is required before meaningful negotiations towards a settlement can take place. The parties do need to attend this hearing and if they wish to be excused, will need permission of the judge. It makes sense for them to be present, to ensure that nothing is left out and that they understand how the case is going to proceed. There are pilots underway which might mean that ultimately in future, if the parties are agreed that a First Appointment is not necessary, because they have agreed how the case will progress, then with the permission of the Court, the appointment will be vacated and the agreed directions issued by a court together with a new date for the FDR hearing, discussed next.
But if the First Appointment does proceed, both sides will put their positions to the judge and explain what, in their opinion, is still deficient and needs to be produced. Valuations of assets, when there is a dispute about value, may be ordered, often with a single expert jointly appointed by the parties at joint cost. Sometimes the judge may allow each party to have their own expert, but it depends on the type of asset, the value in dispute and the complexity and cost of the valuation involved. Further disclosure may be ordered of the parties themselves if the disclosure to date is unclear or incomplete. The judge will fix a timetable for all the events to happen and for the next hearing: the Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment.
The process has begun in earnest.
During the period between these two hearings, a lot of work needs to be done. For example, there must be valuations, answers to questionnaires, consideration of answers, tax advice, consideration of omissions, perhaps additional court orders, examination of assets, and consideration given to how assets can be divided. The documentation must be shipshape. The court will also be told how much has been incurred in legal costs to date.
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