Family Law Insights: Private Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) Hearings

A photo of John Randle, Senior Counsel and Head of Family Practice at McAllister Olivarius.

John Randle, Head of Family Practice

John is a specialist family solicitor with over 40 years’ experience dealing with complex, high value divorce cases.

The court system has been in crisis for some time now. Anyone who has been through a contested divorce at the family courts will be acutely aware of the poor facilities, overburdened judges, and general lack of concern for the well-being and comfort of the parties involved.

The solution, at least for financial hearings cases in divorce, may be private Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) – a form of resolution where a private judge gives a neutral evaluation as to the likely outcome of the case, offering parties an early, non-binding settlement hearing. First piloted in 2018, private FDR has gained momentum as an alternative to traditional court proceedings in divorce cases. After recently attending a private FDR hearing and a traditional family court hearing on consecutive days, I can see why.

Why choose private FDR?

In my experience, these simple improvements in the quality of the physical space lead to negotiations that are less hostile and less likely to result in deadlock. The other significant factor is that the private judge has plenty of time to read all the case papers carefully, dedicating his or her time to that case throughout the day. There is no risk of your judge being too pressed for time to consider key evidence. Finally, the judges available are of excellent quality. I know of some private FDR judges who have given up 20-year practices as barristers to specialise in family cases.

Anyone facing divorce should consider private FDR

Of course, private FDR comes at a cost, but it should not be seen as something that only applies to wealthy clients. If both parties agree to split the costs, the additional expense of private FDR is around £2,000 plus VAT per party. In fact, private FDR often works out cheaper than the traditional courts. In my view, it is not efficient to pay a solicitor to spend an hour waiting outside the courtroom, or to spend half your time trying to find a quiet corner in which to negotiate. Yet, time and again, this is what I see in family courts up and down the country. Recent court data gives an even stronger endorsement for private FDR: while 45% of court-based FDR hearings result in a settlement between the two parties, this rises to 90% when the parties undergo private FDR. Those settled cases may avoid six months’ worth of legal fees, repaying the investment in private FDR several times over.

After more than 40 years attending hearings in the family courts, it is my firm view anyone who can capitalise on private FDR absolutely must do so, and any solicitor who doesn’t recommend it is putting their client’s case at risk.

Contact John and his team today for a free and confidential initial chat. Alternatively, to find out more about what we can offer you, visit our Family Law page.