By Angelique Holm
The day of judgment has come (or so you hope) and you have received a hearing date to attend a Children Family Court. The hearing has been listed as a ‘First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment’ or FHDRA for short (pronounced fehe-drah).
If you have not sought legal advice from a Child care
Solicitor already, some parties now ask themselves if they should seek representation. You ask yourself, “how difficult can it be?” After all, I filled and sent in the C100 application for a Child Arrangement Order myself or others”, and begrudgingly attended mediation. “Not that it helped much. He or she didn’t even show up!”. You ask yourself, “should I really have to pay a children specialist lawyer to help me?”
“The court surely must see that what my partner has subjected me to is wholly unfair and very petty”
A lot can happen at this first hearing or appearance before Court. An applicant who believes his or her case to be straight forward may suddenly find themselves in a precious situation when allegations (doesn’t matter whether true or not at this point) are slung against them. However strong a case may be, it is nevertheless a daunting experience for a litigant in person as there are no assurances on what will be disclosed or brought up in court. It is safe to assume that the Respondent whom has been summoned to attend court to explain why they are not allowing or restricting contact will not be leaving the arena without a fight. If that was not the presumption, parties would have reached a compromise without the need to attend court.
“Surely I can save money if I don’t instruct a family and child custody Solicitor or Barrister”
Essentially the FHDRA can be the first or it may also be effective as a final hearing. Seeking expert advice is prudent. Why? Because the advice you receive will prove invaluable. Having an experienced advocate to ward off the wicked and ugliness in a courtroom is gold dust to a client.
First and foremost, a lot can take place behind the scenes leading up to the first hearing. An Officer of the Court from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) may have been appointed by the court to conduct a preliminary search (basic police and social services checks) and interviews with the parties and if necessary and appropriate, with the children as well. A safeguarding letter will then be sent to the court with any preliminary findings.
So what is FHDRA in an application for a Child Arrangement Order, and what can you expect at court?
At FHDRA, the court may or will:
1. listen to the parties’ proposals and arguments
2. try to narrow down the contentious issues to progress the case
3. give directions for more information or disclosure if allegations (risk of harm and abuse) are raised against the other
4. order another hearing; a finding of fact hearing if necessary, to determine issues or allegations of abuse and violence
5. give directions if there are allegations of misuse of alcohol and substance abuse; the court may order drugs or alcohol testing
6. may ask the parties to speak to a Duty Officer from CAFCASS to help mediate matters if one is around at court
7. order a more detailed report from CAFCASS; this is called a Section 7 report; directing the Officer to investigate further, i.e. speaking to the parties separately and children if they are mature enough to understand – to assist the court with investigations and recommendations at the next hearing
8. Give directions and deadlines to parties to file their statements and evidence, or allow a schedule of allegations with a statement in support to be prepared for the next hearing
Remember, it is not enough believing you know what is best for your children or what is best for you – the court’s primary duty is to ensure the children’s best interests and needs, or if they are old and mature enough, to weigh and consider their wishes and feelings with respect to these proceedings.
“What is going on here? Why am I being ambushed?”
This is when it gets tricky…you are unexpectedly fazed with an onslaught of information and questions thrown at you. If you have never been exposed to such a harrowing experience, you might feel as though you are on a roller coaster. Therefore, having advice prior and during this first hearing can make or break deal. An instructing solicitor specialising in the family department will be able to advise sensibly, negotiate and even mediate between parties if no agreement is forthcoming. A solicitor (advocate) or barrister with experience in children matters will be efficient in drafting an agreement or binding order if you are lucky enough to agree matters on the day. The court will be forced to adjudicate as a last attempt or resort if you are not so lucky. At the very least, a childcare Solicitor will be able to explain what is required of the parties before the next hearing.
If all ends well, you will not have to face the courtroom battle again
A solicitor or counsel is trained to weather the storm at court and may be able to knock matters on the head whereas a person acting on his own may not have the experience to negotiate or argue and present his case across as effectively. Adrenaline and emotions will also be running high. One might feel nervous, frightened, intimidated or confused and heaven forbid nauseous with principles of the law and what his rights are. It may be worse if the other party has a legal representative with them and he or she does not. You may end up only having to pay once and not twice if matters can be concluded at the first hearing.
At OTS Solicitors, our team of family and child custody solicitors in London have years of experience. We are an award-winning law firm and are highly ranked in the Legal 500.
For a more detailed discussion regarding arrangements for your children, or to book an appointment with a member of our family law specialist, please call us now on 0203 959 9123.