Knowing what to expect in family proceedings can take away some of the stress and pressure, particularly if you are not represented by a solicitor. It can also help you prepare for what is to come and although court should always be viewed as a last resort, in some cases, it is not possible to reach an agreement. Where a final hearing is necessary, it is usually because one or both parties have not meaningfully engaged in the process, or they are welded to an outcome that is unrealistic. Final hearings are rare, this is because out of the cases that get to court, the vast majority are settled before reaching that stage.
At a final hearing, the judge will ultimately decide about division of your finances. You and your ex will be required to give evidence under oath and answer any questions posed by the judge, your ex’s legal representative and yours. This article takes you through what to expect.
How should I prepare for the final hearing?
In the run up to the final hearing, each party will have been expected to take certain steps and prepare, file, and serve various documents. These are likely to include:
- Updating and sharing financial disclosure/information to make sure the court and your ex have current information to allow orders to be made
- Obtaining any additional expert evidence, for example instructing an estate agent to provide an updated valuation, tax advice, updating pension information, etc
- Filing a witness statement to address questions or specific criteria such as the capital and income resources available, details of financial needs, standard of living, ages of the parties and length of marriage, any disabilities, contributions of either party, conduct and any benefit either party will lose because of the divorce (such as a pension)
Some cases require a pre-trial review, which is a short procedural hearing to check whether earlier directions have been complied with and if there are any directions needed in advance of the final hearing to ensure nothing will cause it to be adjourned on the day.
What happens at the final hearing?
You will have been notified of the time estimate of the final hearing in advance, which, depending on the complexity of the case, can be between one day and several weeks. On the first day, it is possible the judge will encourage both sides to have a final attempt at reaching an agreement before the hearing begins. The general view is that it is always better for parties to reach a consensus and not be decided by a judge because it is more likely both will be prepared to accept and live with the agreement as opposed to one that is imposed.
Once the hearing starts, there will be brief opening statements by the parties’ legal representatives, following which they will give their evidence. This is guided by their legal expert and is often brief because it predominately revolves around them agreeing to the contents of their Form E, replies to questionnaire, and their witness statement. Both parties will then be cross-examined in turn by their ex’s solicitor or barrister.
What questions will I be asked in cross examination?
Being on the receiving end of a barrage of questions can be an uncomfortable and nerve-wracking experience. However, the judge will only allow appropriate questions to be asked that are relevant to the case. The exact questions you will be asked will vary from case to case, as each set of circumstances is unique. However, you are likely to be asked about the following based on section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973:
Personal and Financial Information:
- Your full name and address.
- Your occupation and current employment status
- Income, including salary, bonuses, and any other sources of income
- Other financial resources, such as investments, properties, or savings accounts
- When you married and separated
- Whether there are any cohabitation agreements or prenuptial agreements, and how these came about
- Confirmation you provided full and accurate financial disclosure in accordance with the court’s requirements
- Whether there are discrepancies or concerns regarding the financial information provided
Standard of Living:
- Your standard of living during the marriage
- Whether there have been any significant changes in your financial circumstances since separation, and if so, an explanation of the change
Assets and Liabilities:
- What assets you own individually or jointly with your spouse, including properties, vehicles, investments, and pensions
- Debts or liabilities you have, including mortgages, loans, and credit card debts
- Whether there are any disputed assets or debts that need to be resolved
Needs and Obligations:
- Your financial needs, including housing, income, and any dependents
- Whether there are any special considerations or obligations, such as caring for children or supporting elderly family members
Proposed Financial Arrangements:
- Your proposed financial arrangements for the division of assets and liabilities
- Justification of your proposed arrangement in terms of fairness and reasonableness
Other Relevant Factors:
- Whether there are any other factors that you believe the court should consider in determining the financial settlement
This will provide the court with a general overview, and a lot of the information will already be contained within the case documents.
What orders can a judge make at the final hearing?
The court has the power to make a wide variety of financial orders, including:
- Temporary financial support or short-term spousal maintenance/support
- The sale of the former family home
- Transfer the family home from joint names into the name of one party
- Payment of a lump sum
- Transfer shares in a business
- Pay spousal maintenance on either a short-term or long-term basis
- Pension sharing orders
- Payment of costs associated with financial proceedings
The court has the power to make orders for children, although these are limited. This is because of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), the government body that deals with child support.
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