Can’t afford legal representation? More and more people are now representing themselves in court, known as being a ‘litigant in person’, particularly in divorce cases. Senior solicitor Kate Smith has some tips for those going it alone at these ‘financial remedy proceedings’
1 Don’t be afraid of the lingo
All financial remedy proceedings follow the same basic procedure. First, both parties must complete a Form E so that they and the court know their assets and income as well as their needs and the issues involved. There are then three hearings known as the first appointment, financial dispute resolution hearing (or FDR) and the final hearing. The first appointment is to review the documents and ensure there is full financial disclosure. Directions are often given by the judge for expert evidence, such as a pension report or property valuations. The FDR hearing is the hearing where parties are given an opportunity to discuss with a judge their proposals and to receive guidance from the judge as to the order the court is likely to make at the final hearing, being the trial. The trial can take at least one day, possibly longer. It is always hoped that the case can settle before this hearing.
2 Be prepared
Solicitors and barristers usually work from a notebook. You should do the same. This will help you to keep a record of your discussions and a list of any issues you wish to raise with the judge. Also, take a snack and a bottle of water to court as often cases do not start at their allocated time and you may find yourself sitting in what can often be a packed waiting room without refreshments.
3 It’s OK if you don’t know
If you don’t know or don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask. Doing so will not weaken your case. The Judge is there to assist the parties and will take time to clarify matters for you. If you are dealing with the other party’s solicitor, they should also explain matters to you, although they will not be able to provide advice. At court, you will usually speak with the other party’s solicitor during negotiations and not with the other party direct.
4 Get (at least some) advice
Many solicitors offer fixed fee interviews or limited advice and assistance that suits your specific requirements and financial position. This is often invaluable as it will provide you with guidance and an explanation of what to expect, both in terms of settlement and the process more generally.