Private financial dispute resolution meetings

What it is

The private FDR (otherwise known as Early Neutral Evaluation) has been gaining popularity over the past few years, particularly in London and in cases involving significant assets. In March 2020 a new protocol and guidance was issued for the Family Remedies Courts which positively encourages the use of private FDRs and suggests that these should take the place of court hearings provided process and evaluator was acceptable.  In the current situation where the courts are struggling with workload and may take some time to get back to normal, it is expected that the private FDR will become more usual across the country including in a wider variety of cases which may involve a more average level of assets.

I have been liaising with the full time judges in Greater Manchester to try to ensure that a process can be agreed whereby where there has been a private FDR before issue of proceedings, then the matter can be fast tracked to final hearing in court if settlement is not agreed, thereby avoiding duplication of costs.

 I offer to act as an impartial expert evaluator who will operate in a similar way to a judge in helping the parties and their solicitors to try to reach agreement, by indicating the approach a court would be likely to take if the matter went to a final hearing, and helping to explore options for settlement.  My experience over more than 20 years of sitting as a Deputy District Judge (with specialist tickets for complex finance cases and private law children cases) and working as a family mediator make me particularly qualified for this role.. 

The objectives

a)    To reach settlement at the earliest possible moment with the benefit of full information and advice from solicitors

b)    to avoid the necessity of the court process, and save time and costs accordingly

c)     If the private FDR does not settle the case and court proceedings have to be issued, to fast track that process to a final hearing, thus avoiding duplication of costs or delay.

d)     To give the parties choice of date, venue and expert to conduct the FDR, and to keep them in control of the process. 

e)    To give the parties an alternative to mediation where they may feel the need for the support of their solicitors to deal with the level of complexity or power imbalance.

Process

Before a private FDR is arranged, the parties’ solicitors will have exchanged full financial information in Form E, have answered any questionnaires arising, and have obtained any expert or valuation evidence necessary.  A chronology and statement of case for each, an agreed schedule of the financial position, together with copies of settlement offers would be produced, exactly as in the court process.

An FDR meeting would then be arranged with clients and solicitors present, and this may take all day if necessary to reach settlement.  

If agreement is reached at a private FDR, the solicitors may be able to draw up and obtain signatures to a consent order and financial summary at the meeting, which could then be submitted to court for approval.

If for any reason agreement is not reached, then the parties would apply by consent for the court to list the matter for final hearing, hopefully avoiding the need for a First Directions Appointment or court held FDR hearing. I have drafted a suggested form of order is attached, which follows the format of the FRC protocol with slight amendment.

Private FDR meetings can be held at a venue to suit the parties, or can be hosted on Zoom.  The time required for the meeting and any preparation will be dependent on the level of complexity involved, and costed accordingly.  Fixed prices can be agreed.

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