Alternatives to court - early neutral evaluation and private FDRs

The majority of disputes … are capable of consensual settlement… all cases which can be settled should be settled.

Lord Wilson SCJ
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Options which were once considered to be ‘alternative’ are becoming the norm as people seek to avoid court to provide a less stressful and more timely, cost effective and efficient route to a resolution.

In cases where both of you want to avoid or limit your participation in the court process, but an independent adjudicator is necessary because you are not able to agree a settlement, private non-court options are available. 

Many of our clients benefit from fast tracking their case to a private Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearing after proceedings have been issued and the court has ordered the necessary financial disclosure, or after an exchange of disclosure has taken place on a voluntary basis. An FDR hearing forms part of the standard court process. It is a hearing at which both of you put forward proposals for settlement and a judge indicates what they would order if they were deciding the case. These indications can be powerful motivators to encourage agreement. However, in recent years, the court system has become overwhelmed and it is not uncommon to be waiting several months for a hearing date. Even once you have a hearing date, you remain at risk of postponements and last minute changes which can impact your case.  

A private FDR provides a fast-track route with certainty and the ability to select an experienced judge (who could be a retired judge or senior lawyer). A hearing will take place in the same way it would have done had you followed the court process but in a private setting where you will have the attention of your chosen judge for a full day, if needed, rather than being part of a congested court list. You can also select the date, time, and location that the hearing takes place. If you are able to reach an agreement at the private FDR, it will then be put into formal language in a consent order and approved by a judge to make it legally binding. 

Early neutral evaluation works in a similar way to a private FDR but a hearing does not necessarily have to take place and it can also be used in matters relating to children. An evaluator, likely to be a senior lawyer, is selected by you and your former partner to consider your case, either by just reviewing documentation provided or by also having had the positions summarised to them in a hearing. The evaluator will then deliver their evaluation of the likely outcome in your case either orally or in written form. As with a private FDR, if you are able to reach an agreement having heard the evaluation, a court order will be made by consent. 

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