If an agreement can be reached at an early stage this will avoid the need for attendance at a court trial.
Ancillary relief proceedings are the part of the divorce process which resolve any financial issues between the parties to the marriage. In other words it involves orders for financial relief ancillary to divorce. The divorce and the resolution of the financial issues do not necessarily have to be decided at the same time.
In many circumstances financial arrangements can be dealt with amicably through negotiation between solicitors or at mediation. We encourage parties to reach an early settlement to avoid the costs that can be incurred if the matter proceeds to a court trial. However, it is sometimes necessary to issue court proceedings, especially if the circumstances of the case are complicated, there are high value assets involved, any of the assets are in a different jurisdiction (country) or simply to avoid drift.
Either party can start the process at any time after the divorce petition has been filed by filing a notice of application seeking ancillary relief. The only thing to remember is that a spouse's right to apply to the court to decide the question of ancillary relief is lost on remarriage, therefore proper advice should be taken to avoid becoming statute barred. When the court receives the notice, it will fix a First Directions Appointment (FDA) for 12 to 16 weeks after the issuing of an application.
Before the FDA, both parties will have to exchange their financial disclosure, in the format of a sworn statement of means known as a "Form E" (pdf). This document must be exchanged at least 35 days before the date of the first appointment.
At any stage either party can propose a settlement. We do not recommend to clients that offers are put forward to the other party or their solicitors until there has been an exchange of financial disclosure. Only when there is this "cards on the table" exercise can we properly advise as to what a proper settlement might be. In any event, a court will only approve a settlement if it is provided with such disclosure.
If an agreement can be reached at an early stage this will avoid the need for attendance at a court trial and the agreement can be protected by an order of the court, to which both spouses agree, known as a consent order. It is important that matters are resolved properly through the court to avoid unexpected claims arising later.
If the matter does not proceed at the FDA, the matter is listed for a further appointment known as a "Financial Dispute Resolution" hearing (FDR) and a judge takes an active part in helping the parties to resolve a settlement. If an agreement is still not reached then the matter is listed for a final hearing and the trial judge will make a decision on how the financial circumstances of the case should be dealt with.
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