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While the current Family Proceedings Rules allow accredited representatives of the press to be present in court during divorce financial remedy proceedings, the reality is to date it has been rare that members of the press actually attend hearings in the family courts as they have not been entitled certain documents and have been very limited on what they would be able to publish. However, this is likely to now change.
The opening up of the Family Court
In the Transparency Report, the President of the Family Division states that it is in the public’s interest to know about the decisions being made in the family court in order to have a basis for trust in what is being decided. The conclusion reached by the President in the report is that there needs to be a major shift in culture and process to increase transparency in the family court. It is hoped that this will enhance public confidence in the Family Justice system.
The main conclusion of the report is that the time has come for accredited media representatives to be able, not only to attend hearings, but to report publicly on what they see and hear. In addition to the report there has also been a consultation on a proposal to introduce a Standard Reporting Permission Order to enhance the transparency of and public confidence in divorce financial remedy proceedings. The proposal is that in every financial remedy case started at court, an order will be issued by the court as a standard step and reviewed at the First Appointment hearing. The order sets out that journalists and legal bloggers are entitled to have sight of certain key information and documentation.
The Transparency Project, a registered educational charity who seek to advance the education of the public in the subject of family law and its administration, welcome the step forward towards greater transparency that the consultation proposes, but have made suggestions about how the proposals might be refined to make them more workable for all participants. A copy of their response can be found here.
So, what does this mean in practice if you are getting divorced and are involved in court proceedings to resolve financial issues?
In summary members of the press will be allowed to attend court hearings and publish names and photographs of you and your spouse, a description of the factual or legal issues in the case, quotations from the documents filed in the proceedings and a summary of the judgement that will be made by the Judge at the conclusion of the proceedings. The press and legal bloggers can be provided with private financial information disclosed in the family court proceedings, although they are only entitled to publish a broad description of the types and amounts of assets and income and other financial resources. They will also be entitled to report on a broad description of the open proposals for settlement made in a case.
If you have financial issues to resolve as a result of a divorce and don’t want your private life made public then you should now more than ever give serious thought to the non-court based dispute resolution process options available, if they are appropriate for your case.
There are many advantages to the non-court process options available to resolve matters. One of which is confidentiality. Here is a quick summary of some of the different options:
Confidential Dispute Resolution Process Options
Family mediation is a voluntary process where an independent, professionally trained mediator helps separating spouses find solutions to issue that arise as a result of divorce.
There are lots of different models of mediation available, so the process can be tailored to meet the needs of the divorcing couple.
The Collaborative Process
The collaborative process requires a shared commitment to avoid court proceedings. It provides an opportunity for spouses and their collaborative lawyers to all work together to find solutions that enable them and their family to move forward in a positive way. The process involves a series of joint meetings involving the couple and their collaboratively trained lawyers for the purposes of settling all issues. The spouses and their lawyers sign an agreement confirming the mutual intention of reaching a fair and equitable settlement and not to go to court.
Early Neutral Evaluation
Early Neutral Evaluation is a process in which an independent and impartial specialist family law evaluator is jointly appointed by you and your spouse to give you both an assessment of the merits of their case and give their opinion based on their legal experience (they are usually often qualified barristers, arbitrators, judges) of the likely outcome if the matter went to court.
Arbitration is a process that can be used when you have a dispute that can’t be resolved between you and your spouse. You can appoint an accredited Arbitrator who will give you a fair and impartial decision on the issue/s you would like to resolve. A legally binding outcome (an ‘Award’) is then made.
How we can help
If you are involved in court proceedings and are concerned about confidentiality, or if you would like to find out more about the confidential alternatives to court, our award-winning specialist team are here to help. Please contact us.
Gemma Hope is a Director, Specialist Family Law Solicitor, Mediator and Collaborative Lawyer in our Brighton team.