If direct financial negotiations in divorce have been unsuccessful,  clients can find themselves in the court system facing a series of hearings.

The first is known as an FDA is a Financial Directions Appointment where orders about disclosure of financial evidence and valuations are made. The second, often many months later is the FDR or Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment. This appointment takes place at court where attempts are made to settle matters often successfully. The disadvantage of a court based FDR is that the court is often completely over-run with cases. It is not unusual to arrive at court after a huge delay in obtaining a court date and find that there are numerous other matters in the same list as a complex FDR. Clients have invested many thousands of pounds in the hope that the Judge will be able to help them resolve the case. They are often disappointed to find that the judge hasn’t the time to read the papers or that in the over-burdened court system the papers have been lost. The appointment sadly can turn out to be a waste of time and then there is little option but to proceed with a very expensive hearing on a final basis.

There is another alternative for those that can afford it (and indeed given the problems outlined below it is arguable that it is a good investment in many more modest cases)

The concept of a private FDR is simple. The parties pay for a financial specialist (often a recently retired judge) to act as a private FDR judge. They can choose jointly the judge, the date of the FDR and the location. It takes place away from court promoting a more relaxed atmosphere for negotiations. A full day is usually set aside to maximise the prospects of settlement and the judge is available all day. This is fundamentally different to the court system where the judge is under massive time pressures and the date may be inconvenient to all.

The client’s lawyers present the arguments to the judge as if they were in court and the judge suggests the likely settlement or range of settlement. The clients and their lawyers then negotiate further during the day to see if agreement can be reached. If it is the agreement can be drawn up then and there, signed by all and subsequently approved by the court without anyone needing to attend court at all. There can be a huge saving in cost and time despite paying for the judge as settlement opportunities are maximised. If, unusually,  the private FDR is unsuccessful then a further directions appointment can be obtained from the court and the matter can proceed to a final hearing, almost certainly at a quicker pace than would have been the case if the matter had gone all the way through the court system.

So, in short there are many advantages to a private FDR. As a firm we have been involved in a number of highly successful FDRs and would recommend their increasing use.

Liz Allen is one of the UK’s leading divorce solicitors. She is partner and head of the family team at Stephens Scown LLP in Exeter, which has been given the top ranking by independent legal guides Chambers UK and Legal 500. Liz features on the Citywealth Leaders List, an international guide to the most highly regarded figures in private wealth management. To contact Liz or her team, please call 01392 210700, email family.exeter@stephens-scown.co.uk