Dealing with Finances after Divorce
Divorce is a difficult process for everyone involved, and one of the trickiest areas to navigate can be the separation of finances post-divorce. It can be even harder if you’re representing yourself in court without a solicitor or barrister.
If you’ve got a financial hearing coming up and you’re representing yourself, you might be wondering how to prepare your own financial paperwork. Perhaps you’re worried about messing it up and jeopardising your case, or you’re just not sure where to begin.
If that’s you, read on for some tips and advice on how to prepare for a financial hearing when you’re representing yourself.
What Happens before a First Hearing (First Directions Appointment [FDA])?
The process of preparing for and attending a financial hearing starts with you or your ex-spouse submitting an application for a financial remedy. You may first have to attempt mediation by attending a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to determine if meditation is more appropriate for your situation.
This often means that the person making an application must contact a Family Law Mediator who will speak to your ex to see if they will mediate. If they decline, the mediator will provide you with a certificate to show you attempted it, and you will then have to proceed to court. Mediation, if it works, is far better than attending court so it is always worth trying.
2. Making an Application to the Court
You then start your claim by completing and issuing a Form A: Notice of [intention to proceed with] an Application for a Financial Order, after which both parties will receive a Notice of First Appointment from the court containing key actions they must complete and dates you both must adhere to.
3. Completing the Financial Disclosure Form
Before the first hearing, both parties will complete Form E: Financial Settlement for a Financial Order/for Financial Relief after an Overseas Divorce. This form outlines your financial situation, including jobs and income, savings, debt, expenditure, pensions, and any assets that you own such as property. The form needs to be supported by evidence such as bank statements and wage slips, and, once complete, each party must send a copy to the other party and to the court. On the form, both parties must fully disclose their situation. Withholding information can have serious consequences so it is an important form to complete correctly.
4. Preparing the Questionnaire
The next step in preparing your own financial paperwork is to create a questionnaire for your ex-spouse based on the information they have supplied in Form E or based on what you think they haven’t disclosed. If you think your ex is hiding something, you need to prepare your questions in such a way as to try and expose this and gather evidence to back up any claims of deceit.
5. Preparing a Statement of Issues
You’ll also need to prepare a chronology of events outlining the key events of your relationship and divorce, and a Statement of Issues which outlines what you feel the court needs to do and what actions need to be taken in relation to any property.
6. Completing (as required) Form G, Form H and a Note for the Hearing
You’ll also come across something called a Form G which states whether the parties consider that the first hearing can proceed as a Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (FDR), and Form H which sets out the costs of financial remedy proceedings. Form H is only relevant if you have used a solicitor and have costs from them. A Note for the Hearing will also be needed to explain your situation.
7. Attending the First Directions Appointment (FDA)
The FDA will then go ahead. In straightforward cases, the FDA can progress immediately to an FDR in straightforward cases. That is, the same court hearing can be changed from the FDA to the FDR. If things are not so simple and there are disputes, you will need to prepare for an FDR.
What Happens at the Second Hearing (Financial Dispute Resolution [FDR])?
At the FDA, the court will order certain actions to be taken in advance of the FDR, such as exchanging replies to questions, property valuations, mortgage offers etc. You’ll consider any offers that have been made and prepare a schedule of assets and obtain any other necessary documents. The FDR aims to resolve disputes and the emphasis is on the parties, rather than the judge, to reach an agreement. However, the judge will comment on the likely outcome of any future hearings and encourage you to reach an agreement based on his comments. To prepare your financial paperwork for the FDR, you’ll need to explain your updated situation to the court, outline proposed housing arrangements, and your earning and mortgage capacity. Importantly you need to have made an offer to settle which the Judge will discuss.
Most often any contentious issues are resolved at the FDR, but it may be necessary to set a date for a Final Hearing, which takes the form of a trial where the judge will listen to the evidence produced by both parties and make a decision.
What Happens at the Final Hearing?
It’s important to note that preparing your own financial paperwork for a final hearing is time-consuming and involved, and it’s important to get it right. You’ll need to prepare and submit a bundle to the court.
This will include a Section 25 Statement detailing your income and earning capacity, financial needs and obligations, standard of living, details of any disabilities you have, and contributions you have made financially.
If you have children, you’ll also need to outline their financial needs, any income they earn, their educational situation and requirements, and any maintenance you receive or are liable to pay.
It’s worth bearing in mind that the judge can make any kind of order, such as prohibiting the sale of the family home for a number of years or ordering pensions to be shared, as well as a monthly maintenance payment to be made from one ex-spouse to another. These orders might not be what the involved parties initially wanted, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to prevent the case from going to a Final Hearing where the judge decides the outcome for you. Part of this is knowing how to prepare for a financial hearing properly and manage your own paperwork if you’re representing yourself in court.
Financial Disputes or Withholding of Information
When people divorce, they often worry that their ex-spouse won’t fully disclose information about their assets and, unfortunately, this is often the case. That is why the questionnaire you prepare for the first hearing is so important. Often, the case will go to a second hearing (FDR) as it is common for one or both parties to be willing to give up or share assets or income. It can be a draining process for everyone involved.
If you do suspect that your ex is withholding information, or conversely exaggerating aspects of their situation, you can be assured that the various steps in the financial hearing process will expose this. The onus is on you, however, to prove their deceit and that’s why it’s so important to get the right support in preparing your own financial paperwork.
It’s likely that you’ll be aware of your ex-spouse’s financial situation and therefore will know what bank accounts, assets, and income they have. If you suspect they are hiding something, a good way of revealing this is to look at their bank statements for transfers between bank accounts. This shows that they are trying to hide money by switching it from one account to another.
Another way of exposing this is to look for money going into and out of a bank account provided by your ex, but which isn’t being used to pay important bills. You’ll know this as those bills won’t be shown in the transactions. This is important as it is unlikely these bills would be paid using cash, so if they are not shown in this bank account they must be coming out of another account.
Sometimes directors of limited companies will claim a low salary, and to combat this you can request copies of bank loans and Hire Purchase Agreements which will show the actual income they stated when they applied for the loans.
So, there are ways to prove that your ex-spouse is being untruthful or not fully disclosing information and this may have consequences for them in court and benefit you.
If you want to learn more about how to prepare your own financial paperwork and how to represent yourself in financial hearings, I run a useful online short course which goes into this in more depth. The course looks at ways to expose financial lies and how to complete all the relevant forms correctly to maximise the chance of you getting the outcome you want.
For more information about my Financial Remedy Short Course click here.
I hope you found this blog post useful. Feel free to share it with anyone you know who might need some advice on how to represent themselves in a financial hearing or prepare their own financial paperwork.
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