What is a first directions appointment hearing? banner


What is a first directions appointment hearing?

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If you have not been able to reach a financial settlement and your husband or wife has started financial court proceedings you will have received notice of your first court hearing date, called a first directions appointment hearing.

Normally if you are involved in financial court proceedings there are three hearings:

  • The first appointment or first directions appointment hearing; then
  • The financial dispute resolution hearing; then
  • The final hearing.

Prior to the first directions appointment hearing work has to carried out to ensure court procedure is followed, such as:

  • Serving the financial application on all relevant parties , such as the mortgage company if the family home is subject to mortgage; and
  • Preparing financial disclosure and completing a court form known as a Form E; and
  • Exchanging Form E with your spouse’s solicitor and preparing a list of questions about the spouse’s financial disclosure. This is called a questionnaire and is not needed if the financial disclosure is complete and the finances are straightforward. If finances are complicated or disclosure incomplete the questionnaire can be lengthy; and
  • Looking to see if valuations of property or other assets are required, such as a business or pension, and if so getting quotes for what are called single joint expert reports; and
  • Preparing paperwork for the first directions appointment hearing, such as a chronology, statement of issues and cost form.

No two financial court applications are ever the same. For example, the best London divorce solicitors will tell you that in some cases, extra court hearings are needed and in other scenarios, it is possible to negotiate an agreed financial settlement before the first directions appointment hearing.

How can OTS Solicitors help?

If you need legal advice on a financial settlement or financial court proceedings then OTS Solicitors’ divorce and family finance team can help you.

For a confidential discussion on how OTS Solicitors can help you please call us on 0203 959 9123.

Do I need to go to the first directions appointment hearing?

Unless a couple have already been involved in children court proceedings the first directions appointment is normally the first time that they have seen the inside of a court room. Accordingly, many divorcing couples find the thought of going to court for the first directions appointment hearing very intimidating and ask if they need to be there. After all, if they have a top London divorce solicitors representing them at court is their attendance necessary.

The best London divorce solicitors recommend that both spouses attend the first directions appointment. If you do not go, you may be criticised by the judge. You may recall reading in the papers about Ant McPartlin missing a family court hearing thinking his lawyers would sort it out for him. I am sure that they did but the judge can take a dim view if a husband or wife does not attend court.

The second and more important reason, why you should attend court for the first directions appointment hearing is so you are familiar with the court setting and see how the judge operates in the courtroom. Normally, at a first directions appointment when you are represented by a solicitor there is no need to speak to the judge so it is a good way to familiarise yourself with the court. Then if you cannot reach a financial settlement and have to attend the financial dispute resolution hearing or final hearing, it is not as worrying as you know what to expect.

What happens at a first directions appointment?

At a first directions appointment hearing the judge has the job of making sure that all the information required for the financial dispute resolution hearing is sorted out, such as the filing of any replies to questionnaires or valuation reports. No two first directions appointment hearings are the same but they are always a “housekeeping” hearing for the judge to sort out the paperwork he or she thinks is necessary for the financial application to proceed, such as:

  • Should either the husband or wife reply to the questionnaire asking questions about their form E and financial disclosure and, if so, how many weeks will they need to answer and provide the requested extra paperwork? The judge can decide that some of the questions in a spouse’s questionnaire of their husband or wife are irrelevant to the financial issues or the cost of providing the extra information is disproportionate;
  • Should a surveyor instructed by the husband and wife jointly value the family home or other property? This is referred to as a single joint expert report. A valuation is not necessary if a husband and wife agree on the valuation;
  • Should the court order the valuation of any other assets, such as valuable jewellery, artwork or boat. If the value of expensive items cannot be agreed between a husband and wife a valuation may be necessary as otherwise the judge at the financial dispute resolution hearing or final hearing will not be able to assess what is a fair financial settlement;
  • Are expert reports required, such as a pension actuary report to assess the value of pensions and look at pension options; a forensic accountant’s report to look at the value of a family business, its liquidity and the tax implications of sale ; a medical report if a spouse says a medical condition means they cannot work and requires spousal maintenance;
  • Does anyone else need to be joined into the court proceedings? Sometimes this is necessary if the parents of a spouse say they have a financial interest in the family home because the deposit that they provided was a loan rather than a gift. In other complex cases, the trustees of a trust or a company may need to become involved in the court proceedings;
  • When will all the questionnaire replies and reports be available so that the financial application can be listed for the second court hearing, the financial dispute resolution hearing?

It is important that the first directions appointment hearing is treated as a vital housekeeping or gatekeeping hearing by top London divorce solicitors. That is because if the preparation is not carried out before the court hearing and issues are not thought about at the first directions appointment there is far less likelihood of a couple being able to negotiate a financial settlement. Equally importantly, if the paperwork is not in order there is a risk that either the financial dispute resolution hearing or final hearing could be adjourned by the court.

How can OTS Solicitors help?

For advice on financial settlement options and starting financial court proceedings or for legal representation at a first directions appointment hearing please call OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 for a confidential discussion about how OTS Solicitors can help you.

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