When it comes to divorce settlement hearings the role of the judge might come as a surprise to some. Their job, first and foremost, is to help people reach an agreement. Only if the parties are intransigent will they actually make a judgement.
This was brought home when I recently listened to a Judge explain to a self-represented husband what his role was at a Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearing. He said he was there to try and help the parties reach an agreement. The Judge made plain his impartiality from the outset and that he would help the husband to demystify the law and the points the wife’s solicitor (me) would present on her behalf.
This wise family Judge said that he was there to help the parties keep hold of the bigger picture, the things which were most important: a home for their children, the parties own housing and income needs, etc. And he made the point that he did not want either party to resort to arguing over the coffee spoon when this really wasn’t the issue nor something worth arguing about. This really helped focus the attention of the couple on finalising the more significant financial issues as the smaller ones really didn’t matter – at least not in the scheme of things.
The purpose of an FDR
A Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearing is the opportunity for divorcing parties who have been unable to reach an agreement between themselves about their finances to each present their positions to a Judge. The Judge gives their view on the case and indicates how they would potentially conclude matters if they were asked to make a decision. No final judgement is made at this hearing, instead the parties have an opportunity to consider the Judge’s comments and see if they can reach a decision between themselves instead of coming back to Court and having that decision made for them by the Court.
Don’t argue over the coffee spoon
There was a little discussion - after agreeing the big things - over ‘the coffee spoon’ and the Judge reminded the parties what he had said at the beginning, and they quickly agreed to meet in the middle to achieve an end to the dispute and allow us to draft an agreement concluding the case.
So often, once a solicitor is instructed, the parties use that as an excuse to draw their battle lines. I for one, as a Resolution solicitor, want to help my clients reach a settlement, not start a new battle when they have clearly already had a significant one to reach the end of the marriage. With the Courts seeing a rise in self-represented parties the Courts have less and less time for each individual case which is causing delays. Thankfully we still have some great Judges who make sure the time the parties have with them is used as effectively as possible.
This case also made me appreciate that whilst there will always be talk that lawyers are expensive, where both lawyers, and their clients, can keep a focus on the bigger picture there is more likely to be a swifter resolution. Sadly the upset of the separation often spills over into anger about arrangements for the children and disputes over the fine china from a long lost great-aunt, whom neither party liked anyway! If the parties can keep a grasp of the bigger picture, I would hope that we can continue to reach early agreements in the most cost-effective way for both parties involved, whether both are represented or not.
So, if you have recently separated, try to put a focus on the things that really matter – look ahead a few years and ask yourself, will this make a real difference to my life? If not let it go, just like the coffee spoon.
Divorce & family solicitor Bristol