There are three ways you can reach an agreement using the conventional route:
(1) Direct Agreement
This is the cheapest and easiest way to deal with the issues surrounding separation and divorce. It involves you negotiating directly with your former partner to reach an acceptable joint agreement in relation to your children and financial settlements.
One or both of you should take legal advice prior to reaching your own Agreement. You will also need to instruct a Solicitor to put your Agreement into effect in respect of financial matters. Reaching an Agreement between yourselves in this way will save you both time and money and the result will be focused on you and your family's needs.
Following your submission of the Agreement to the Solicitor, he or she will advise on its fairness before incorporating it into a legally binding document - either a Consent Order for divorce purposes, or other Deeds/Agreements.
Agreements in relation to children cannot be made legally binding in the absence of a Court Order.
(2) Lawyer Negotiation
This is where you and your former partner each instruct your own Solicitor. You will each be asked to make voluntary disclosure of your finances to your Solicitor, following which the two Solicitors will exchange this financial information and enter into negotiations for settlement.
Negotiated settlements often involve round table meetings to reduce the amount of correspondence passing between the two sets of Solicitors. Once a negotiated financial settlement has been agreed this will be incorporated into a legally binding document, possibly a Consent Order, for the Court to approve. Neither you nor your former partner normally need to attend the Court.
Lawyer negotiation often involves children issues along with financial aspects of the separation in line with the Resolution practice of putting the needs of children first.
If Agreement cannot be reached through lawyers. Your Solicitor will advise you on further options in order to reach an acceptable conclusion.
GHP Legal is able to advise and obtain the best outcome for you in respect of your relationship breakdown, financial and children issues and, when necessary, represent you in Court.
Traditionally, Litigation begins when all attempts at either Direct Agreement or Solicitor Negotiation have failed and other dispute resolution methods have been discounted or failed. In financial matters pertaining to divorce, An Application is made to Court and the Court will timetable the matter for resolution. There then follows a period of twelve to sixteen weeks to allow for the submission of full and frank financial disclosure and other directions requested by each party's Solicitor.
Following this disclosure and other directions, a Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing will be held whereby a Judge becomes involved in the settlement. The Judge will give an indication of what a fair settlement might be and encourage further negotiations between you, your former partner and your Solicitors, to try and settle the case.
Most cases in the litigation process settle at the Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing or shortly afterwards. In the few cases that do not settle at the Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing the matter is listed for a final contested Hearing before a different Judge. Both you and your former partner will normally give evidence and the Judge will make the final decision.
This final contested Hearing is extremely expensive because of the amount of documentation necessary to provide to the Judge.
Once you have been assessed by a Mediator at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) you may be in a position to apply to the court for an Order. Mediation is encouraged by the Court and is often a less acrimonious way of dealing with child issues provided there is no good reason for mediation not to take place.
Any parent or guardian is entitled, as of right, to make an application to the Court for an Order and this can include a step-parent. Other persons may apply but only with the leave of the Court and this would include grandparents or foster parents.
An application is filed with the Court and the Court lists an appointment for Dispute Resolution. A copy of the application is served upon the other party together with notice of the hearing date.
A safeguarding interview is conducted by CAFCASS and a safeguarding report is sent to the Court.
Both parties must attend the first appointment and there is usually available at Court a Court Welfare Officer who will interview both parties - jointly, if possible - to ascertain whether an agreement can be reached without taking the matter further. The Court will try and reach a conclusion of the case at the first hearing.
If agreement has not been reached, the Court will usually list the matter for a Final Hearing with both parties to file statements in support of their case. Only in exceptional circumstances will the Court order that a Report be prepared by either CAFCASS or Social Services. Such Reports will only be ordered where there are welfare or safeguarding issues. This report is likely to take 12 – 16 weeks to prepare.
Following receipt of the CAFCASS Officer’s report, a further directions appointment will be listed by the Court to ascertain, once again, whether agreement can be reached. If not, both parties will be ordered to file statements setting out their case.
A date for a final hearing will be provided by the Court, at which both parties must attend to give evidence and the Court will make a final Order.
In certain circumstances, a Court may order a different sequence of events, but this does depend upon individual considerations and the above procedures represent the sequence that will usually prevail.