The first hearing (the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment): You are bound to be wondering what to expect prior to the first court hearing concerning children proceedings. This guide will help you to understand what to expect. If you need more guidance on what to expect, please do get in touch with me on 0161 509 6241 or by completing my online contact form.
In some cases you may be told to do something before you go to court for the first hearing; if so you will receive an order from the court. For example, you may have to provide a summary explaining what progress you and your ex have made in producing a Parenting Plan or attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting if you have not been to one, and the Judge decides that you have wrongly claimed to be exempt.
The first hearing usually takes place about 4-6 weeks after you start your case. You and the respondent must both attend. If you don’t turn up, the court can refuse your application or go ahead without you. It the respondent does not turn up, the court can go ahead as long as it thinks the respondent knew about the hearing. If neither of you attend, the court may refuse your application.
The hearing usually lasts between 30 minutes and 1 hour. You will meet a judge and a Cafcass officer (in Wales, a Welsh Family Proceedings Officer). They will want to be clear what you agree about and where you disagree. They will try and help you find a solution to some or all of the issues you can’t agree about. The Cafcass officer will try and talk to each of you before the hearing.
If the court cannot make a final order, it will make an order for directions. This is a list of instructions telling you and your ex (or another family member) what to do and when and is how the court manages the case to make sure it makes progress.
If possible, the court will give you a copy of the order it makes before you leave the courtroom. If there are things in it you do not understand, say so, politely. You should know if there is going to be another hearing in your case and the date, time and location of that hearing before you leave the court. If you don’t, again, ask.
You can find a link to the court rules about the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) here: Practice direction 12B – First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA)
If court proceedings start, it is very common for arrangements for the children to be sorted out by negotiation and agreement at the first hearing.
The details of what you have agreed will be recorded and approved by the court. If the court thinks you can stick to what you have agreed, it may decide not to make a court order at all, even an order that you both agree to (a consent order). However, the court will make an order if it thinks that would be best for your child or children.
The first hearing (and any later hearings in your case) will be held in private. This means that members of the public, friends and family members who are not involved in the case are not allowed into the actual court hearing. They will have to wait outside for you. However, that doesn’t stop you bringing a friend or family member along to court with you for moral and practical support.
You can take someone into the hearing with you if you want them to act as your McKenzie friend (supporter) but they will not be able to speak on your behalf. They will almost certainly need to tell the Judge who they are, and a little about themselves. They should have no involvement in the case. Tell the judge as soon as possible if you want someone to take on this role.
The judge can ask your McKenzie friend to leave the court if they behave in a way that interferes with the court doing its job, for example, if they make loud comments.
There are strict rules about whether and when the media are allowed into court in family cases. For information about whether and when the media can attend the hearing about the arrangements for your children, see: Can the media attend my court case? Can the media attend my court case?
If you are worried about meeting your ex at court because they have been violent or abusive to you in the past, phone the court and tell them this. Ask them to make arrangements for you to wait for the hearing in a safe place. When you arrive at court, ask security to show you where to go. You can also ask them to help you leave the court separately from your ex, perhaps via a different exit, after the hearing.
If you need advice or assistance following the breakdown of a relationship, I can help. As a specialist divorce lawyer, I can provide bespoke advice whatever your circumstance. Contact me today on 0161 509 6241, or by completing the online contact form.
During these extraordinary times, I remain open for business and will be happy to help you should you require legal advice. In line with government advice, I will be working from home and can be contacted on 0161 509 6241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wish you all the very best. Stay safe and stay well.