From 24 August 2020 it will be compulsory for solicitors to submit financial consent orders via the HMCTS digitised consent order system. Although the online system has been in place for a period of time, solicitors have still had the option to send applications on paper to the Regional Divorce Centres.
At present the waiting times when submitting consent orders online is typically much shorter than by post. One order we recently submitted was approved within a week!
Turn around times may increase when all solicitors are using the online system, however it is hoped that the system will be able to streamline the process and make things a lot smoother for all. By giving judges the flexibility to review consent orders from a secure online portal, it is possible for them to pick up consent orders more easily alongside their hearings.
What is a consent order?
A consent order is submitted to the court when parties have been able to reach an agreement between themselves. It is usually prepared and agreed with the involvement of solicitors, to ensure that it is drafted correctly and covers all the necessary points.
Consent orders can set out what changes there will be to how the couple owns their assets (ie a transfer of a property or the payment of a lump sum) and can also deal with ongoing commitments, such as maintenance. Consent orders can also offer the security that an asset one party owns is going to stay theirs in the future and stipulates how the parties have chosen to divide their matrimonial finances.
The benefits of a consent order are that it can set out what the parties want to happen (although there are some limitations in what can be included – for example a financial consent order cannot deal with care arrangements for a child). Reaching an agreement gives parties much more freedom compared to asking the court to make a final decision on the parties’ financial settlement.
The consent order is submitted to the court along with additional documentation to help explain the position to the judge. This includes a summary of the parties financial positions (known as a statement of information).
The court will then consider the application and decide whether to approve the order.
Will the court just approve the consent order?
The court will consider carefully the fairness of the submitted order. The judge will consider the financial summary and look at the “net effect” of the agreement. The judge will want to make sure that the parties’ needs and those of their minor children are met.
If the court does not consider that the financial consent order is fair to either party, they can decide to not approve the order. The judge can then decide to ask parties to submit a written letter giving answers to questions or explaining the position further, or asking the parties to attend a short hearing to discuss the overall outcome.
Why is it important to seek legal advice in relation to a consent order?
In relation to any financial settlement it is important to get it right. Without seeking specialist family law advice, you may not know what a fair settlement would look like and what you are entitled to under the law. A solicitor is able to provide you with that advice and act in your best interest.
A solicitor will draft a financial consent order taking into consideration as many eventualities as possible and in doing this it can become quite technical. To ensure the best outcome for you and that you are protected for the future it is always important to seek legal advice when drafting the order.
Although parties do not have to have legal advice, a judge who knows that the parties have had that advice can usually be more assured that the parties understand the agreement they are entering into. The courts always look to ensure that parties to a financial agreement have made an informed decision about their agreement before it is approved.
Consent orders can assist with ensuring that parties remain as amicable as possible due to them being in control of the settlement that is reached. This is especially important when the parties share children together. If you are seeking advice in relation to your separation, we are here to provide you with practical and expert family law advice.
If you have any queries in respect of a consent order or a Family Law issue generally, then please do not hesitate to contact the team on 01625 544 650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.