There are two options for settling financial matters with your partner.
- By agreement – parties come to an agreement themselves, often with assistance from their lawyers but without involving the Family Court. This process usually takes between 3-6 months. About 90% of our clients settle with their partners by agreement.
- Family Court – parties file proceedings with the Family Court. There are several steps in this process in which the parties are encouraged to come to an agreement themselves. If there is no agreement, a defended hearing will take place and the Judge will make a decision. This process takes on average about 12 months. About 10% of our clients settle during the Family Court process, although only 1% will progress to a defended hearing.
We strongly encourage our clients to come to a settlement with their partners by agreement, as it is the most cost effective method and takes the least time. These processes are mainly used to settle relationship property matters but can also include issues around spousal maintenance (financial support). The detailed steps of each process are listed below.
Settling through agreement
|Information gathering||One of the parties instructs their lawyer to write to the other spouse, notifying that they wish to separate and resolve issues of relationship property. Parties gather financial information.Information can be requested of the other party which must be provided. Valuations may be sought. Experts may be used.|
|Letter of advice||Both of the parties lawyers will provide a letter of advice to their client, which summarises the facts of their case, the strengths and weaknesses of their claims, the options available and the likely outcomes.|
|Negotiation||Parties negotiate directly with each other or via their lawyers. Negotiations can be carried out at meetings or via e-mail. Parties may wish to have a mediation, which is a meeting facilitated by a mediator who is skilled in helping people to reach an agreement. Mediators are often independent lawyers and both parties would agree on the person selected. The parties’ lawyers may be present during this mediation if the parties request.|
|Draft agreement||A draft agreement is reached.|
|Agreement||Agreement is signed and certified by the party’s lawyers. It is now binding.|
Settling through the Family Court
Parties can choose to go to Family Court if they are unable to reach an agreement in the above steps. Occasionally people prefer to start Family Court proceedings straight away.
|Information gathering||One of the parties instructs their lawyer to write to the other spouse, notifying that they wish to separate and resolve issues of relationship property. Parties gather financial information. Information can be requested of the other party which must be provided. Valuations may be sought. Experts may be used.|
|File an application and affidavit||One or more parties file an application to the Family Court to start proceedings. This will include an affidavit of their financial situation. The court processes the documents and serves them on the other party. The court monitors the service.|
|Issues conference||This is a meeting of around 15 minutes between the parties, their lawyers and a Judge, to narrow down the issues. This meeting may highlight the need for expert witnesses.|
|Negotiations||The parties and their lawyers continue negotiations.|
|Roundtable conference||The parties, their lawyers and a mediator (agreed on by both parties) meet to see if a resolution can be obtained.|
|Settlement conference||The parties and their lawyers meet with a Judge, who will encourage them to come to an agreement.|
|Defended hearing||If the parties do not reach an agreement at the settlement conference, a date is set for a defended hearing. It may be six months before a defended hearing is held. The parties and their lawyers will present arguments to the Court for a Judge to make the final ruling.|
|Judge’s decision||If the case is straight forward, the Judge will make a ruling soon after. However if it is a complex case, the Judge may take a further few months to make a decision.|
The Ministry of Justice website has more useful information about the division of relationship property. Matters involving child custody are handled in a separate process. If you have any questions about this process or would like to discuss your situation with us, please contact Jeremy.
“The information posted on this website is prepared for a general audience, without investigation into the facts of any particular case. This information is no substitute for legal advice and does not create a lawyer-client relationship; you are advised to consult with a lawyer on any legal issue.”