Lawyers love codes and acronyms. We talk amongst ourselves about FDAs, FDRs, D81, H1, DN, DA and Form E (amongst many others). We understand that acronyms and procedures which are second nature to us are likely to be something of a mystery to those not dealing with them every day – to you, the general public, our clients. So we have decided to produce a short series of our blogs aimed at demystifying the process of sorting out finances as part of the divorce or civil partnership dissolution process.
So, let’s start with disclosure.
Disclosure means providing a comprehensive picture of your finances as they stand, and your future financial needs and resources. This is done at the start of the process by both people in a marriage or civil partnership, so that sensible negotiations can take place. Your lawyer will not be able to advise you properly about the likely outcome of your case, or about settlement parameters, without having a full picture of where both of you are placed financially.
Disclosure is essential whether you intend to settle your case through negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, arbitration or through the courts. If you do start to use the court process, the court will order both parties to complete the document known as Form E, before the first court hearing (for more information about how the court process works in financial matters on divorce or dissolution, click here for our downloadable factsheets). If you litigate, then you will have to verify the contents of the form with a statement of truth. Giving deliberately inaccurate information in court proceedings can land you in very hot water – as Form E says on its front page,
“If you are found to have been deliberately untruthful, criminal proceedings may be brought against you for fraud under the Fraud Act 2006. The information given in this form must be confirmed by a statement of truth. Proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against a person who makes or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth.”
If you are trying to settle the case through negotiation, mediation or collaborative law, then it is fairly common to use the Form E or a document closely based upon it, and complete it in the same way as if you were litigating, just without the need to verify it formally with a statement of truth. This doesn’t of course mean that you can get away with giving inaccurate information; in order to finalise an agreement achieved through any method of dispute resolution, the court needs to have accurate disclosure before it and any party who does not properly disclose is always at risk of the consent order being reopened.
So, what needs to go into a Form E?
The first section covers basic details such as names and addresses, information about the marriage or civil partnership, the children’s educational arrangements and any maintenance being paid for them.
The bulk of the form concerns your present financial circumstances. Completing this section drives everyone around the bend, as it requires a lot of detail and documentation to back up everything in the form. It is best tackled in a calm and organised fashion, for example getting a lever arch folder and some dividers and slowly getting together the paperwork.
In essence this is what is required:
- For all of the property you own, either jointly or in your own name, you need up to date mortgage statements and ideally something to evidence its approximate value (such as estate agent’s appraisal);
- For all of your bank accounts you must provide the last 12 months statements (this can often feel like an invasion of privacy as the lawyers and your spouse or civil partner can then look at what you have been buying, but it is a necessary part of the process);
- Proof of the current value of any investments (shares, ISAs, unit trusts etc);
- Details of life insurance policies and their surrender values –you usually need to request these specifically from the insurance companies;
- Details of personal belongings worth over £500 (eg cars, paintings, antiques);
- Debts, such as credit cards;
- Actual or potential capital gains tax liabilities, which is something you might need an accountant to clarify for you;
- Business assets – if you are a company director or in partnership, or run a business, then you need to provide company accounts and various other documents;
- Pension valuations – either a recent yearly statement or by request from your pension provider; and
- Details of your earned or self-employed income, with payslips and/or tax returns in support, along with any unearned income and state benefits.
You also need to disclose any interests under a trust or imminent inheritances.
The third section is where you set out what you need in terms of income and capital for the future. The income section requires the tedious, but essential, exercise of preparing a monthly budget so you can work out what you spend each month and how much you really need to live on. This section needs some care, as budgets can be a major source of disagreements because of their connection with the amount of maintenance a court might order to be paid between the two of you.
The final section allows you to set out your contributions to the marriage or civil partnership, the standard of living you enjoyed and any other relevant circumstances, so that the court and the lawyers have as complete a picture as possible of your individual situation.
Understandably, many people are vexed by the exercise of completing the Form E, and some people find it overwhelming, especially if they have not had to manage the family finances before. You may want to ask a friend to help, and there are also divorce support practitioners who offer assistance in getting the information together.
To get the best out of your solicitor, and keep a handle on your costs, it is best to give them as much information as possible in one go, rather than piecemeal. We will of course discuss all this with you and support you if you are going through the, somewhat painful, exercise of preparing disclosure, but in the meantime, if you would like to discuss anything raised above, give Gail, Adam, Sue or Simon a call on 01223 443333.