Family matters: What if an agreement can’t be reached?

3 April 2021

Matthew Godden explains what happens in a Family Law dispute if agreement can’t be reached.

It is important to state at the outset that litigation should be a last resort in all family proceedings, whether that be a dispute as to how the sale proceeds of a property should be split or how many nights a child should stay with each parent.  There are a range of non-court based options that must be considered such as mediation, arbitration, collaborative law, private financial dispute resolution or a round table meeting between lawyers and parties.  All these alternatives to Court litigation can and do resolve disputes without the animosity and cost that is sadly sometimes inevitable with divorce or a relationship breakdown.

If an agreement cannot be reached through dispute resolution, it may be that the only option is for the Court to be asked to make a decision and for that be imposed upon the parties. The relevant summons (there are different documents for financial and children disputes) will need to be issued to start the process. The parties are then allocated a date for a Preliminary Directions Hearing at which the Court will give directions to take the case forward.

In a financial dispute these directions are primarily for the filing and exchange of financial information, such as bank statements, wage slips, valuations of property. Once this exchange has taken place (and assuming there are no outstanding questions/issues) then at the next Court Hearing the Court will give directions, for example the filing of agreed schedules of assets & liabilities, Open Positions (a document setting out the proposal for settlement) and bundles containing key documents and legal authorities, to take the matter to a Final Hearing

In a non-financial children dispute, the directions are usually for the involvement of a welfare officer from the Jersey Family Court Advisory Service (“JFCAS”). The JFCAS Officer will then meet the parties and usually produce a short report setting out some recommendations in advance of the next Court Hearing. Cases will often settle following this early involvement of JFCAS but if not it is likely a full Welfare Report will be required where the children’s views may be ascertained. A Final Hearing date is then set where the parties and JFCAS Officer will give evidence in Court.

Although parties may have started down the litigation route, a costly and lengthy Final Hearing is no inevitable, cases will often settle before this point and the formal Court imposed direction do focus the minds of the parties in order to reach an agreement.

Any relationship breakdown is undoubtedly a difficult process, but there are ways to make it less painful. By getting advice at an early stage parties can be fully apprised of the range of options that are avalaible and reach an informed decision as to the best solution.