two men discussing finances

If you’re going through a divorce and find yourself in the midst of financial proceedings, you may have come across the term ‘Financial Dispute Resolution’ or FDR. But what exactly is it, and why should you consider opting for a private FDR? In this article, we’ll break down the process and highlight the advantages of choosing a private FDR over a court-led one.

What is a Financial Dispute Resolution appointment (FDR)?

In most cases, the FDR serves as the second hearing in financial proceedings during a divorce. It takes place once both parties have a complete understanding of their financial situation. Think of the FDR as a form of court-led mediation. It’s important to note that any discussions that occur during the FDR are considered without prejudice. This means that if a settlement is not reached, the offers made during the FDR cannot be mentioned in court or in open correspondence. This allows you to negotiate freely. During the FDR, the judge will provide general guidelines, referred to as an ‘indication’, regarding what they consider to be an appropriate settlement. The judge will encourage you and your spouse to negotiate, and it’s worth mentioning that the majority of cases settle either during or shortly after the FDR.

Introducing private FDRs

Traditionally, FDRs were conducted exclusively in court. However, in recent years, divorcing couples have the option to choose a private FDR, provided both spouses agree to it. Private FDRs follow the same structure as court-led FDRs and occur at the same stage of the financial proceedings. Despite these similarities, there are three key differences between court FDRs and private FDRs. Firstly, with court FDRs, the judge is randomly selected by the court. In contrast, during a private FDR, you and your spouse have the freedom to select the judge who will preside over your case. Secondly, the date of a court FDR depends on the court’s schedule, while a private FDR allows you to choose a date based on your availability and that of your legal representatives. Lastly, court-based judges do not require a separate payment, but for a private FDR, you are responsible for covering the fees associated with the judge’s services.

What are the benefits of choosing a private FDR?

Opting for a private FDR comes with several advantages that can greatly benefit you and your spouse throughout the process. Firstly, the ability to select your judge ensures that you have someone with the right experience, expertise, and soft skills to increase the chances of reaching a settlement. Private FDR judges are typically specialist family law barristers, whereas court judges may not always possess extensive experience in financial family cases. Secondly, private FDR judges have sufficient time to review the relevant documents and hear your case thoroughly. In contrast, court judges may be assigned at short notice and might have multiple cases to handle on the same day, potentially compromising the attention given to your specific situation. Thirdly, private FDRs tend to be scheduled and concluded more swiftly compared to court FDRs. Additionally, there is no risk of the FDR being adjourned by the court at short notice, saving you from potential delays. While private FDRs involve the additional cost of the judge’s fees, it is often found that these expenses are lower than the costs associated with a delayed court FDR.

The rise of private FDRs

Private FDRs have gained traction as an appealing alternative to court-led FDRs. The ability to select your judge, the increased time and attention devoted to your case, and the expedited process are all compelling reasons to consider this approach. For a full analysis on the rise of private FDRs, have a look below at partners Sharon Bennett and Jamie Gaw’s article first published in the Solicitors Journal in May 2023.