The recent BBC drama, The Split, raised a number of issues that divorce lawyers come across in every day practice. In a number of episodes, we saw various characters attend court hearings to deal with financial settlement disputes. What played out on our screens was not entirely accurate, suffice to say that some of the content was most certainly included for dramatic effect.
In circumstances where it is not possible to agree a financial settlement, matters regarding maintenance or other discreet issues relating to matrimonial assets and property in correspondence via solicitors or with the assistance of mediation, it will often be necessary to issue a court application. If that is the case, here is what you can expect when you attend court;
- The Family Court is often within the same building and the Crown Court (which deals with criminal matters) and also the Civil Court. In some Courts, different floors will deal with different issues.
- You will have to go through a screening process when you enter the Court building, similar to an airport security gate. Your bag will be searched and items such as penknives, aerosols etc. will be held back and you will have to sign for them when you leave the court building.
- There is an Ushers Desk at which you will usually “check-in” so that the court ushers and ultimately the judge know that you have arrived.
- The court listing is usually up on the wall and you will be able to find your case listing, together with the name of the judge who will be hearing your case.
- You will usually attend court with your solicitor and in some cases, also a barrister.
- It is very rare that you will be expected to talk to your spouse and if you see them sitting in the waiting area, there are usually private conference rooms you can go and sit in, to avoid any confrontation or altercation.
- The meeting and conference rooms are available for anyone to use and it is usually the case that you and your legal team will go into a room whilst waiting to be called into Court. During this time, you barrister and solicitor will provide you with advice on how the hearing and next few hours are likely to pan out. At negotiation hearings, it is not unusual to spend the whole day in a conference room whilst offers are being exchanged between you and your spouse.
- The judges in divorce and financial cases do not usually wear wigs and gowns but they will be seated slightly higher up at the front of the court.
- When you enter the court room it is courteous to acknowledge the judge before taking your seat. You and your spouse will be seated to the left and right hand sides separately and usually, your barrister will at the front table and you will sit directly behind your barrister with your solicitor.
- You are able to talk quietly to your solicitor and if necessary, your solicitor can pass your barrister notes or give them further instructions. You can also take your own notes should you wish, but your legal team will be taking a detailed note of everything that is said and all directions and orders the judge makes.
- The judges will not tolerate foul language, shouting or aggressive behaviour and if that happens, the judge will issue a warning or request a break. You should be respectful to the judge and your opponent to ensure that the hearing is as productive and uncontentious as possible.
- You should dress smartly and ensure your mobile phone on silent or switched off.
The nature of the hearing will very much depend on where you are in your case and the sort of application which has been made. However, it is generally always the case the judge will make an order, give directions to signpost your case forward and in some cases, give indications as to how best to settle your case.
The court process is a daunting one for anyone who is not familiar with the procedure and set up and it is for that reason that most people will instruct a solicitor and a barrister to ensure they have the best possible representation and to provide guidance and reassurance.
Thea Bennun is a solicitor in the family team in Exeter. If you would like to contact Thea about the content in this article, then please call 01392 210700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.