By Family Law Solicitor, Julia Sacco
When serious allegations have been made during a children matter that could impact on the welfare of the child, the Court will hold a Fact Finding Hearing to investigate these allegations. This is a lengthy hearing during which everyone involved will be cross examined at length, expert and lay witnesses may be called forward and the representing barristers will give lengthy speeches at the beginning and end of the hearing.
Once the Court has reached a decision, this will then enable them to continue with the original application and make a Court Order regarding the child's living or contact arrangements.
When does a Court order a Fact Finding Hearing?
Most applications in children matters relate to where the child shall live and/or how often they will see the non-resident parent. These are very serious questions for the Court and will affect the child's life significantly. A decision of this gravity cannot be made if there is an unsubstantiated, but serious allegation made that could, if true, have serious consequences for the child's welfare. Under these circumstances, the Court will not be able to proceed with making the Order until the allegation has been fully explored in the Court room. This is when a Fact Finding Hearing will be ordered.
The Fact Finding Hearing will deal exclusively with the allegations and a decision will be made as to whether the allegations are true or not.
The purpose of the hearing is to narrow the issues, so the Court can get back on track to resolving the matter that caused the application in the first place e.g. where the child will live, contact etc.
What will happen in a Fact Finding Hearing?
The Fact Finding Hearing will be far lengthier than the other hearings that may have been held in the lead up to it. This is because each person involved will be cross examined by all the representing barristers at length. There may also be expert witnesses and lay witnesses called to give evidence and be cross examined also. The barristers will also give lengthy speeches at the start and end of the hearing to pull together what evidence has been shown to the Court and try to persuade the judge to take their client's side.
In the lead up to the Fact Finding Hearing there will have been various statements and reports filed at the Court. These will have been collated into 'Court bundles' which will be provided for the Fact Finding Hearing only and will be discarded once a finding of fact has been made.
Once the Court has assessed all of the evidence provided before and during the Fact Finding Hearing, a decision will be made. If there are a series of allegations, the Court will make a ruling on each individual allegation.
What happens after the Fact Finding Hearing?
Once the Court has made a ruling on each allegation, any allegations that were not found to be true will no longer be referred to in the rest of the proceedings. If an allegation is found to be true, the allegation will be considered a 'fact' for the Court to consider when making any future Orders.
The children matters then proceed using the usual format and pick up from where they became diverted for the Fact Find. However, these issues will have been greatly narrowed during the Fact Finding Hearing, and the Court will now be able to focus purely on the Court Order requested in the application.
Help and Guidance during a Children Matter
Children matters can be very lengthy, are highly emotive and there are many deadlines to be adhered to. Evidence will need to be obtained and set out in a format that accurately conveys the case to the Court, and needs to also set out what is required by the Court.
If you are in this situation, it is always best to instruct a Family Law Solicitor to ensure that the case is handled in the correct manner and to ensure the best possible outcome. A Solicitor can also use their experience to provide you with possible outcomes and manage expectations throughout the case.