Some spouses may want to have a judge decide their fate and choose litigation.
Others may disagree on issues and do not want to negotiate with each other.
Or a judge receiving paperwork may have some questions and concerns, requiring one hearing with the spouses and their solicitors.
There can be one or two hearings with a settlement, or a series, leading up to the expensive final hearing with barristers on their team. Solicitors can send documents to the court without their clients ever having to appear.
The county court is the one that deals with the majority of divorces and separations. Children’s issues must be in the court in the jurisdiction where they live.
The High Court is used in cases of extreme wealth, more complex ones, or when one or both parties are foreign born. The Magistrate Court handles a case with a criminal charge, such as domestic abuse. The Crown Court deals with serious cases that require a trial by jury.
In Scotland, the Sheriff’s Court hears divorce and civil cases.
If going to court, your solicitor might get a barrister to represent you. The cases of extreme wealth are heard in the Court of Sessions in Edinburgh. In Northern Ireland, the High Court hears most of the divorce cases. Their Magistrate Court deals with removing an abusive family member from the home.
The judge will get input from Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) when assessing child arrangements.
Cafcass are officers of the court who focus on the children’s wants and needs. They interview the parents, children, and other people in the children’s lives, such as teachers or coaches. Talking to these people gives a picture of parenting interactions and hands on care.
They share the results of their findings with the judge, so he can make an informed decision on shared custody. Post-divorce a parent may return to court for a child’s issue that is not working out well. Cafcass can evaluate if shared time needs to be tweaked and get the child’s input on the arrangement before reporting to the judge
In most cases in the UK, parents decide on shared custody and do not leave it to a judge’s decision. A judge can issue a Residence Order stating with which parent a child will reside, or what percentage of time. Contact Order is the amount of time that the non-resident parent can see their child. A Specific Order is about one particular issue, such as which school that the child will attend.
Divorce Court Hearings
Pre-trial hearing: The judge has already perused the spouses’ information and can guide them to an agreement. He can urge the spouses to come to a settlement.
Both solicitors may want to settle in just one hearing with smaller details, such as who is responsible for paying the mortgage during divorce proceedings.
After Cafcass gives a report to the judge, the solicitors may want the spouses to come to terms on child arrangements in this more informal setting. It is expensive to have a Final Hearing with barristers representing each spouse in court.
If one requires financial support during the divorce, petition the court for an Earlier Interim hearing. Financial information is supplied and an arrangement for temporary maintenance is enacted that will last throughout the divorce proceedings.
The First Directions Appointment (FDA) is approximately two weeks after the paperwork is sent to court.
The spouses go before a judge and their solicitors tell him the issues. He gives directions determining the course to take which will resolve the major problems. The judge shows what the gaps are in the evidence presented and sets the time frame for future hearings.
This quick session outlines the case and gives directives to be accomplished before meeting again. If compromises are made following this hearing, they are sent to the judge and it may not be necessary for another session.
Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment (FDR) is after following the judge’s directives, and is the second appearance. Both sides have given full disclosure with Form E and this is a way to settle financial differences with the judge’s input.
The prime directive is to see if spouses can compromise on this dispute without resorting to a formal hearing.
In this informal session, the judge gives an idea on what the outcome of the case could be based upon the papers submitted to the court. This particular judge is not allowed to preside over the final hearing, so conversations are quite candid and informative. If a resolution is not met, then the case may end up in a full hearing.
Once an agreement is reached, the court can make it legally binding through a Consent Order after the Decree Nisi.
If this agreement is made outside of court, a solicitor can draw up this legal document which finalizes financial matters between you both. You can even do this without a solicitor using the county clerk’s help with information and how to do this order.
Before the final hearing, the solicitors agree upon the documents submitted to the judge in what is called a ‘’bundle’’, labelled with the court date.
The petitioner’s solicitor or barrister goes first and summarizes the case for the judge. She then gives evidence stating why the petitioner is asking for what she is. Witnesses are called and the respondent’s barrister cross examines them.
The Respondent’s barrister gives his side of the case and then calls his witnesses. The petitioner’s barrister cross examines these witnesses.
Expensive expert witnesses may be employed by both sides. These include psychologists, doctors, or forensic accountants who charge by the hour. Cafcass may also be presenting the results of interviews.
The judge will be looking at any prenuptial agreements and if they are fair. He will look at the case in its entirety. Closing arguments are given by the barristers. The judge may give a ruling at the end. A solicitor will apply for the Decree Absolute and the divorce ends most likely with great expense.
Wendi Schuller is a nurse, hypnotherapist and is certified in Neuro-linguistic Programing (NLP).
Her most recent book is The Global Guide to Divorce and she has over 200 published articles.
She is a guest on radio programs in the US and UK. Her website is globalguidetodivorce.com.