First directions appointment 1

For most people, the first appearance at court in relation to their divorce will be the first directions appointment.  This is referred to by lawyers as an FDA. 

You will be nervous.  Try not to be.  No one can make you come to an overall agreement about your finances at that hearing if you don’t want to.  

If you have a lawyer, their job is to do the talking for you.  Sometimes a judge will ask a party who has a lawyer a question directly, but usually you will not have to say anything in open court.  If you do not have a lawyer, try to keep your worries under control.  Most judges are very aware of the fact that people who represent themselves are nervous and will bend over backwards to put them at ease.

The first important aspect of a successful FDA is to be prepared.  Being prepared could mean having a lawyer to represent you if you can afford it or even just taking a lawyer’s advice so you have some idea of what you are trying to achieve.  On the other hand if you are representing yourself you will need to focus more on preparing yourself.

The next point relates to the day of the hearing.  My firm advice is to turn up early.  The order from the court listing the case may have instructions telling you to get there an hour early.  If it does not, get there early anyway.  There is a tremendous advantage to arriving early, checking in with the usher and finding a decent place to wait.  Take something to read.  If you tell the usher where you are going to be, they can tell the other side where to find you.

So what happens before the first directions appointment?

Both sides are supposed to file a form E, that’s a standard form document in relation to their finances, no less than 35 days before the first appointment.  Court timetables are very important.  If you miss important dates you put yourself at a disadvantage.  You firstly give the other side something to complain about.  Secondly you put back the timetable, because as we are going to see things happen in these cases in a particular order.  Thirdly if things are not done in time it can create a risk of the court ordering you to pay some legal costs.

The form E documents are meant to be used by both sides as a basis for preparing some documents for the first directions appointment.  These are important documents.  Each side is supposed to prepare:

  • A concise statement of issues;
  • A chronology
  • A questionnaire which is supposed to be constructed with reference to the statement of issues
  • A notice (in Form G) in relation to whether the hearing can be used for a Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment.