The First Directions Appointment is commonly referred to as the ‘First Appointment’ or ‘FDA’. This is the first hearing that takes place during the court financial proceedings part of a divorce. It constitutes a general ‘house-keeping’ hearing to work out and agree the next steps required to prepare a case for financial settlement, with a timetable of deadlines for each step to be met.
As such, the hearing aims to put the parties in a position where they can confidently, in an informed manner, negotiate at the second hearing stage, by which point all issues, assets and liabilities should have been disclosed and identified. This second hearing is called the Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (FDR).
It is important to note here the court’s duty, at every stage during proceedings, to consider whether alternative dispute resolution is more appropriate. Where deemed more appropriate, the court can adjourn proceedings, so that this avenue can be set up and explored.
A number of documents are prepared separately by each party in advance of the First Appointment, referred to collectively as ‘First Appointment Documents’. These comprise of:
A few weeks before the First Appointment takes place, both parties file a Form E (a statement detailing their assets and income). The questionnaire is essentially a response to the disclosure received, whereby each party produces a list of questions, including any relevant requests for further information and/or documentation.
At the hearing, the judge will consider the proportionality and relevance of the questions raised, and strike out any considered disproportionate or unnecessary. Afterwards, the parties each have a few weeks to respond to each other’s questionnaire.
Each party also produces a statement of issues they consider to be the most important issues of the case. This should take the form of a list of points usually no longer than a page and a half long. This assists the judge with ascertaining the key concerns and what directions are needed for next steps in the light of these. It also confirms the proportionality of questionnaire.
In this document, each party sets out a list of key dates throughout the marriage, beginning from the parties’ dates of birth and ending with the date of the First Appointment. This will include (non-exhaustively):
Date of cohabitation
When any children were born
When the marital home was purchased
Date of separation
Ddate of the divorce petition
Application for financial remedies
This is particularly important where dates such as those of cohabitation and separation are concerned, as these set the length of the ‘relationship’ in the eyes of the court, and could have a potential impact on the financial award.
Form G is administrative in nature, constituting merely a form confirming that the case is not yet ready for any settlement to be negotiated, and as such the hearing needs to be used as a First Appointment.
Where possible, the parties should also file an agreed case summary and schedule of assets (existence and value of each party’s assets, held jointly and individually) and submit any requests for further documents.
Alongside this, for all of the financial hearings including FDA hearings, the parties must prepare an estimate of costs incurred up to the present date. This is done via Form H, and encourages parties to remain cognisant of their fees and to keep them to a minimum.
The court enjoys wide powers at the hearing, where it must first fulfil its duty to go through the submitted documents and consider any requests for information/disclosure as contained in the questionnaires.
At this stage, the court is likely to also give a direction for the assets to be independently valued by an expert (for example, a chartered surveyor for property) where parties cannot agree . A judge cannot attribute their own value to the assets. This is most commonly done for the family home, but can also be deployed for the valuation of cars, jewellery, handbag collections, holiday homes, wine collections, etc. Other useful expert reports to obtain, on a case-dependent basis, include pension and medical reports. It is also important to note that such valuations only extends as a far as marital property is concerned - any assets outside of the court’s distributive powers need not be valued.
The court must then direct the case to be referred to an FDR, before which it must set out case-appropriate instructions (‘directions’) for the steps they ought to take before then. This includes (non-exhaustively) the likes of obtaining expert evidence, further valuation of assets and any more or remaining chronologies. Pending the FDR, the court may also choose to make any interim orders where necessary (for example, maintenance pending suit).
An accelerated FDA enables parties to expedite the financial proceedings process and avoid the First Hearing when they have already reached agreement on what should happen at the hearing itself. This opportunity therefore allows parties to cut unnecessary costs, time and the need for attendance, however it is only offered in circumstances where the parties have completed the following:
The parties must have agreed on, and signed, a draft Consent Order (a document which formalises any financial agreement reached between the parties, which can be converted into a final, binding order by the court). This draft Consent Order must then be filed with the court at least 14 days prior to the FDA date.
The parties are able to provide with their draft Consent Order all of the First Appointment documents (detailed above), as well as their Forms E. Form E is a form setting out an individual’s full financial details, with the need to give full and frank disclosure of these.
A district judge approves this draft Consent Order prior to the First Appointment (otherwise the FDA goes ahead on the fixed date as normal).
The accelerated FPA does not, however, circumvent the FDR hearing, which must take place for all divorcing parties irrespective of whether the FDA is expedited.
A statement of issues is a document setting out the differences between the parties’ cases. This allows the court to focus on the important issues, and set the directions and timetable accordingly.
The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.