Legal

Courts & documents:
What happens at the divorce courts explained

 

Unfortunately, the H M Courts Service has been changed and documents are no longer available as described below. We shall list new free downloads shortly.

 

Her Majesty's Courts Service
Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS) is an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Their remit is to deliver justice effectively and efficiently to the public.

The Courts Service - downloads
You can download many divorce related forms free of charge as well as information leaflets but it takes a bit of practice to navigate round it. We have given you some shortcuts below after the courts' process information from H M Courts website.

I want to apply for a Financial Order (Ancillary relief)
This guidance is for you if you are a party to a divorce, nullity or judicial separation proceedings and you want to settle disputes over money or property.

During or after a divorce, the annulment of a marriage (nullity) or judicial separation, there may still be a need for the court to settle disputes over money or property. The court can make a financial order. This is known as ancillary relief and may deal with the sale or transfer of property, maintenance payments (e.g. weekly or monthly maintenance), a lump sum payment and/or a pension sharing or attachment order.

If you need help deciding whether you can apply for an order; you should speak to a solicitor. A court official can give you information about court procedures but cannot advise you about the merits of your case.

Ancillary relief
After you begin, there are usually three stages to obtaining a financial order:

  • The First Appointment
  • Financial Dispute Resolution (known as FDR)
  • The Final Hearing

These stages are explained later In this section. However, some cases are resolved more quickly and may not need to go through all three stages.

How do I begin?
You must fill in a Notice of Application (Form A). Copies of this and other forms mentioned can also be obtained from the court. You must take or send your completed Form A (and 2 completed copies) to the court office where the divorce, nullity or judicial separation took (or is taking) place.

Will I have to pay a fee to apply?
You may have to pay a fee. Court staff will tell you if there is a fee to pay and how much it is. They will also tell you how to apply for fee exemption and fee remission.

Costs
At every hearing (from the first appointment to the final hearing, if there is one) you and the other party must provide the court with an up to date estimate of your costs in your ancillary relief application (on Form H). This will help the judge to make any appropriate cost orders.

Ancillary relief
What happens once the court has received my application?

The court will give you an appointment with a judge, who will first consider your case. This is known as The First Appointment.

The court will send you and the other party a Notice of the First Appointment (Form C) telling you when and where this appointment will be.

The first appointment must be between 12 and 16 weeks from the date you filed Form A. This is to allow you and the other party time to file documents at the court and serve copies (such as the Financial Statement - Form E) on each other.

Note - the date for the First Appointment can only be changed (adjourned) with the court's permission. Court staff will be able to tell you how to do this.

What do I need to do before the First Appointment?
By the First Appointment both parties should know about each other's finances and the matters about which they agree and disagree. Therefore, you and the other party must each complete a financial statement (Form E). There are notes to help you fill in this form. You should also ensure that you have sworn on oath or affirmed that the contents of Form E are true. You can do this before a member of the court staff (this is free) or before a solicitor (there will be a fee for this).

No later than 35 days before the date of the First Appointment each party must:

  • File the completed and sworn (or affirmed) Form E at court.
  • Serve a copy of Form E on the other party.

Note - the exchange of each party's Form E must take place at the same time as they are filed at the court. Therefore, you will need to contact the other party (or their solicitors) to agree a date. The exchange can be done by post.

No later than 14 days before the date of the First Appointment:
The notice of the First Appointment (Form C) also tells you which other documents are needed. These documents must be filed at the court and served on the other party at least 14 days before the First Appointment.

Note - You should be aware that the court might make an order for costs against you if you do not follow the deadlines for filing Form E and other documents

Offers to settle
You or the other party may at any stage of the proceedings make a written offer to each other to settle any issue or part of the proceedings relating to the application for ancillary relief. You may wish to take legal advice before making or replying to an offer.

What happens at the First Appointment?
You must both personally attend this appointment. If you do not you may have to pay the other party's costs of the wasted appointment.

The appointment takes place before a judge who can do any of the following:

  • Give further directions on how your case will proceed. The Judge might need further information and adjourn this hearing to a new date to allow time for this to be done.
  • In certain circumstances and if both parties agree, make a final order in respect of your financial application.
  • Refer your case to an FDR (Financial Dispute Resolution) hearing if the matter cannot be sorted out at this Appointment.
  • Adjourn the case for you and the other party to go to "mediation" if appropriate. Mediation involves someone not connected with your case helping you to reach agreement. Public funding may be available from the Community Legal Service and mediation takes place away from the court.

What happens at the Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR)?
This is an informal hearing. Both parties must personally attend, unless the court orders otherwise. The Judge will help you to reach agreement on the matters on which you both disagree.

Note - no later than 7 days before the FDR hearing, the person applying for the order must file at court details of all offers and proposals you may have received from the other party, and any offers and proposals you have made in return. If you are still unable to resolve your disagreement at this hearing the Judge will fix a date for a final hearing.

What happens at the Final hearing?
At the final hearing, a Judge will carefully consider all the available evidence and make a final order.

Note - The judge at the final hearing will not be the same one who dealt with the FDR hearing.

What happens if an agreement is reached before a judge makes a final order?
If, before the final hearing, you and the other party are able to reach agreement, you can ask the court to approve the draft order. Court staff will be able to tell you how to do this. In divorce or nullity proceedings the final order cannot be made (except for where it is for maintenance pending suit or periodical payments for a child) until the decree nisi is pronounced. The order cannot come into force until the decree nisi has been made absolute.

Applications for Interim Orders
You or the other party, can at any time before the final order is made, apply for an interim financial order. Court staff will be able to tell you how to do this.

You can obtain information about the court and its facilities from the court office. The county court office is open Mondays to Fridays from 10am to 4pm. The Principal Registry of the Family Division (PRFD) is open Mondays to Fridays from 10am to 4.30pm.

Children
For more information about Children in the legal process visit the HM Courts website.

What should I do before I start a petition?
Before you start a petition you should read the guidance in the sections I want to get a divorce - what do I do?

Will the court be concerned with all the children of the marriage?
No, only those who still need your care and financial support because of their age and circumstances. You will have to name all living children of the family, no matter how old they are, when you fill in paragraph 4 of your petition. See the guidance I want to get a divorce - what do I do?

The court will be concerned with any child who was born to you and the respondent, or who has been treated by you as though they had been born to you, who is:

  • under 16; or
  • between 16 and 18 and still at college or school full time.

These children are referred to as 'children of the family'.

This includes children you have both adopted. It does not include foster children.

Why do I have to give the court details about the children?
The court must consider the arrangements you propose for the children after the divorce. In exceptional circumstances it can hold up the final decree (the 'decree absolute') until satisfactory arrangements are made for them.

What will the court want to know?
The court will want to know:

  • where they live;
  • who they live with;
  • whether the other parent will see them and how often;
  • about their day-to-day care;
  • about their health;
  • where they will go to school;
  • what financial support they will receive; and
  • that any special arrangements to help or protect them have been made.

Does this mean I must ask the court to make orders about all these things?
No. It is better if you, the respondent (and the children if they are old enough to understand) can agree these things together without the court having to make an order (referred to as 'exercising its powers under the Children Act 1989').

Whether or not you and the respondent agree about the children the court will only make an order about them if it would be better for the children than making no order at all.

How will I tell the court about the arrangements proposed for the children?
When you start your divorce you must fill in Form D8A (statement of arrangements for children) which sets out the proposals you are making.

The respondent can also sign the form D8A to show that he or she agrees with what you propose.

What will happen if the respondent will not sign the form D8A?
The court will send the respondent a copy of form D8A with your petition. He or she will be asked to fill in form D10 (acknowledgement of service) to say whether or not they agree with what you have proposed.

If they do not agree they can make their own proposals on a form D8A and send it to the court. If this happens, the court will send you a copy.

When will the Judge consider the arrangements for the children?
Normally when the Judge looks at the papers after you apply for 'directions for trial'. See the guidance The respondent has replied to my petition - what must I do?. You will not normally have to attend court when this happens.

What will happen if the Judge is satisfied with the arrangements for the children?
The court will send you form D84B (notice of satisfaction with the arrangements for the children). This will tell you that the court does not need to 'exercise its powers under the Children Act 1989'.

Form D84B will be sent to you and the respondent with form D84A, the form which tells you when your decree nisi will be pronounced. The guidance I have a decree nisi - what must I do next? will tell you what happens after your decree nisi is pronounced.

What can the Judge decide if he is not satisfied with the arrangements proposed for the children?
In exceptional circumstances he can decide you cannot obtain your final decree ('decree absolute') until satisfactory arrangements are made for the children. In that case you will be sent a copy of form D66 (notice that decree should not be made absolute).

In other cases the Judge can decide any of the following:

  • That he needs further information about the children. You will be told what extra information you have to provide.
    or
  • That an appointment should be fixed for you and the respondent to come and see the Judge about the children. The appointment will be held in the Judge's room (called 'chambers'). Normally only you, the respondent and the Judge will be there.
    or
  • That a welfare report should be prepared about the children. A welfare officer or children and family court reporter will contact you and the respondent and make an appointment to see you both. He or she will want to talk to the children as well. When the report is ready it will be sent to the court office. The court will tell you how you can get a copy.
    or
  • That it would be better for the children if the arrangements you are proposing, or some other matter about them, should be in a court order. If this happens you will need to apply formally to the court. You should ask a solicitor to help you.

Form D84C will tell you what will happen next and what you need to do.

What kind of orders can the court make?
The most common types of order are orders for financial support and 'section 8' orders.

There are different types of section 8 orders:

  • 'residence orders' which say who the children should live with.
  • 'contact orders' which say who the children are allowed to see, or receive letters or telephone calls from.
  • 'prohibited steps orders' prevent a child's parents, or any other named person, from taking certain steps, such as taking a child abroad without first getting the court's permission.
  • 'specific issues orders' set out precisely how a particular matter about the children should be handled such as their schooling.

The court can also make orders such as 'care orders' or 'emergency protection orders' where the children are being abused or at risk of harm.

Where do I apply for financial support?
When you are asking for financial support for a child which is not for a single (lump sum) payment, you should apply to the Child Support Agency.

In almost every other case, including where the respondent is the stepfather of the child, you should make an application to the court. Court staff will tell you if this is not the case.

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