The best way forward in respect of matrimonial finance on divorce is to agree to settle. If parties can reach an agreement together, or after having attended mediation then a solicitor can set out the terms formally in a consent order which is sealed by the Court and is therefore binding.
If, however, settlement cannot be agreed amicably then solicitors and the Court system are trained to assist.
Initially and where there is hope or willingness to settle out of Court, it is a good idea for the parties to exchange voluntary financial disclosure via solicitors. This will give both sides a clear view of the financial circumstances of the other. It will show what assets are available, how much of an income is coming in and what the other party needs to survive and to accommodate sufficiently any children. After looking at and assessing both sets of circumstances offers of settlement can be made and negotiations can progress. If all efforts fail then it may be the case that to go to Court is the only option remaining.
The Court process in England and Wales for family matrimonial finance is such that to negotiate is key. On application, a timetable is set. Firstly, financial disclosure is exchanged and filed at Court, once that information is scrutinised, questionnaires are prepared seeking answers to any evident holes in the information provided or where further detail is needed. Schedules of the evident issues are prepared and a chronology giving the Court a clear idea of the timespan and history of the relationship including key dates relating to finance.
In an ideal world , if both parties have co-operated with the timetable set, the first hearing should be used as an opportunity to negotiate. If not, then further deadlines are imposed and the second hearing is booked in. The second hearing is therefore the time to negotiate, the Judge hears the current position of the parties, gives guidance and advice as to how they should continue to liaise with each other. Often, throughout the day, the Judge will hear from both sides as to how they are progressing in closing the gap in their positions. I have seen on one occasion the Judge giving such strict advice that the matter should be settled there and then and should not proceed to a final hearing, that she would stay after Court closing time with a view to assisting in reaching this outcome.
Should settlement be reached then the legal representatives on the day will set out the terms agreed in an order, for the approval of the court, and the parties will sign to make it legally binding. Should settlement not be reached, then the parties are obliged to continue to negotiate up until the final hearing.
The final hearing can be set down for a number of days depending on the complexity of the financial circumstances and the degree of contention. Witnesses give evidence and the Judge takes time to consider the case and decide on the appropriate split. This is then ordered, not necessarily on the same day. Usually a timeframe is given and a further hearing set down for Judgment to be given.
Throughout the process the parties are encouraged to agree, with the ultimate objective being to save time, money and stress, keeping the welfare of the children as of paramount importance.