How long does going to court take compared to using mediation?

Court cases take a long time and are costly. How does using mediation compare?

The court process

If you decide to go to court to sort out the financial issues as part of your divorce you will have to lodge a Form A. The court then issue a timetable.

That timetable will contain 3 things;

1.      A date by which all your financial disclosure has to be filed with the court and sent to your spouse using something called a Form E;

2.      A date by which certain documents have to be filed with the court ready for the First Directions Appointment (FDA). This will be things like a chronology, case summary, any questions you want to ask of your spouse’s disclosure and a summary of assets;

3.      The date for the FDA.

At the FDA the Judge needs to know what the case is about so that directions can be made about all the additional information that has to be filed to prepare the case for the second hearing which is called a Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (FDR). In advance of that hearing everyone must have exchanged proposals for settlement so that the Judge can try and help the couple reach an agreement so that a final hearing can be avoided.

If an agreement isn’t reached at the FDR then a final hearing will be required. The couple are then effectively saying to the court that they can’t reach an agreement, so a Judge needs to decide what should happen.

At any point before a final hearing a couple can reach an agreement and prepare a “Financial Consent Order”. This document records the agreement and then has to be approved by a Judge. Once approved, that order becomes a binding legal agreement and the court process ends.

The problem for couples at the moment is that this process is taking about 12-18 months from the start to the end of the court process and sometimes longer if certain experts become involved.

The court process is also very expensive and an average case costs each spouse a minimum of £12,000 - £15,000 + Vat but there are many cases where the costs can exceed this. So that means that out of the couples assets a minimum of £24,000 - £30,000 + Vat will be spent on legal fees.

If you have to go to court about your children, the costs and the timeline can be very similar.

Mediation

If a couple want to use mediation to try and resolve the financial issues or their future Co-parenting plan the process is very different.

Each person must first have a MIAM meeting. We charge a fixed fee of £126 for our MIAM meetings. These are confidential meetings where the issues to be resolved are discussed and a number of other issues to ensure that mediation is suitable for everyone.

After that the couple move into joint meetings. Most of our meetings are now online so the stress and anxiety of attending court is avoided.

Each spouse must provide full financial disclosure before everyone can start to talk about how to agree a fair settlement.

An agreement is often reached in 3-6 meetings depending on the complexity of the issues involved. The timing of when these meetings take place is for a couple to agree but mediation is such a flexible process that agreements are often reached in a couple of months.  This might take longer if experts are asked to prepare reports so that a couple have the necessary information they need before agreeing proposals. However, the process is much faster and cheaper that having to follow a court timetable.

Experts such as valuers, pension actuaries, business valuers and tax experts can be brought into meetings or just asked to do a report where necessary.

Lawyers can also attend mediation meetings if a couple would find that helpful.

Once proposals have been discussed the couple often get their own legal advice before agreeing to be bound by the proposals. A lawyer can then draw up the Financial Consent Order which is signed by everyone and then filed with the court for approval by a Judge so that it becomes a binding court order.

The mediation process costs on average £5-7,000 + Vat which is shared by the couple so it is a process that costs significantly less than going to court. A lawyer will often agree a fixed fee to prepare the Financial Consent Order, normally £800 – 1,000 + Vat.

Co-parenting plans can take 3-5 meetings to agree and if a couple want to, a lawyer can then be asked to prepare a formal Co-parenting plan. Rarely is a court order required although sometimes this is needed if a court process has already started and a couple use mediation to reach an agreement about issues such as schooling, medical treatment or parents moving away.

If qualified to do so, the mediator can also meet with the children to give them a voice in the process.

The costs are broadly the same for preparing a detailed Co-parenting plan but there is a government voucher scheme which can provide £500 towards the costs of meetings.

If you think mediation might help you reach an agreement and avoid court, contact us and we will talk to you about your particular circumstances. You can book a free call on our website www.familymediationandmentoring.co.uk or email us at hello@familymandm.co.uk or call us on 0800 206 2258.

 

 

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