A Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) appointment is a court hearing held for the purpose of discussion and negotiation to give couples an opportunity to reach a reasonable settlement by agreement and avoid the cost, stress and delay of having a contested final hearing. In this blog, I explore some key things to think about if you are attending an FDR.
- The court expects parties to come to court with a settlement in mind. You are expected to make a settlement proposal at least 7 days before the hearing, but you should also come prepared to compromise and move from that position if required to reach an agreement.
- FDR appointments are normally scheduled for the morning, but negotiations can go on well into the afternoon. It is a good idea to ensure that you have taken the whole day off work and organised childcare after school so that you do not get anxious about this or need to leave court while negotiations are continuing.
- You will hear the FDR appointment being described as “without prejudice”. This means that anything said in the hearing cannot be referred to later in the court proceedings if you do not settle, which means you can make concessions and explore alternative options without fearing your ex could use this against you later. In the same way, the judge hearing the FDR appointment will not be allowed to hear any subsequent hearings.
- At the hearing itself, the parties (or their lawyers) will each set out to the judge the facts of your situation and what they believe an appropriate settlement would be. The judge will then give an “indication” of how they think things might be decided at a final hearing if you are unable to reach an agreement at the FDR appointment. This indication is not binding (and there is no guarantee that another judge would come to the same conclusion) but will give you a good idea of how a judge might approach your case if you do not settle at the FDR.
- It is important to understand that the judge at the FDR appointment will only have a short time to hear from you and will not understand the situation as well as a judge at a final hearing would do. In particular, the FDR judge will not be able to decide who she believes in relation to any factual disagreements and may have to indicate a spread of possible outcomes depending on what findings the trial judge might make.
- Although the FDR appointment exists to encourage settlement, you are not obliged to agree anything at the hearing. If you want time to give further thought to an offer outside the hearing, or withdraw any offers made but not accepted at the hearing, and have the case listed for trial then you are entitled to do so.
- If you do not reach an agreement at the FDR appointment, this does not mean that you cannot continue to negotiate with your ex at any time up to and including the final hearing.
- It is nearly always better to come to an agreed solution than to have one imposed on you by the court.
- If you do not reach an agreement at the FDR then the court will make directions to progress the case to a final hearing. These are likely to include written statements from each of you, a further round of updating financial disclosure and updating valuations of key assets. Timeframes differ around the country but many courts will not be able to timetable a final hearing for around 6-8 months.
- Unless the court makes a different order, you will be expected to make an “open” settlement proposal (i.e. one that will be seen by the judge at the final hearing) no later than 21 days after the FDR appointment so you will need to start giving some thought to that quite quickly after the FDR.
Mark Harrop is Director, Solicitor, Mediator & Collaborative Lawyer in our London office. To discuss your own unique situation with one of our specialist Family Solicitors, please contact us.