By Family Lawyer, Simon Hawkins
Dispute Resolution Hearings take place in Family Court after an application has been made regarding a financial or children's matter. These hearings will be used by the Court and the individuals involved to identify the issues that are in dispute as well as the matters that have been agreed.
What Happens at Dispute Resolution Hearing in a Children's Matter?
In respect of a children's application, the Court will usually list the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) at least 4 weeks after receiving the application. This gives Cafcass time to carry out their safeguarding checks, though if the issue is urgent the hearing can take place before these checks are carried out.
At the hearing the Court will give those on both sides an opportunity to speak. At this stage evidence will not be heard, but the Court will use the hearing to identify the issues and set down further directions (instructions) as to how the individuals involved should proceed. These directions will hopefully help both the Court and those involved to begin addressing the matter. For example, the Court may order further reports or written statements to be provided, or they may list the matter for a Fact Finding Hearing.
During the Dispute Resolution Hearing, the Court will also allow time for those involved to negotiate the issues and see if any agreement can be reached. If they are able to reach an agreement on everything then a Final Order can be made, which sets out this agreement in writing.
What If No Agreement Is Reached in the Dispute Resolution Hearing?
If an agreement isn't reached on all matters, but it is on some, then the Order will list those issues that have now been agreed and set directions for those that haven't been.
The matter may be listed for a further Dispute Resolution Hearing, which will take a similar approach to the first, but will now consider any additional evidence that's available, as directed by the Court. If no agreement is reached in the second Dispute Resolution Hearing, the Court will usually list the matter for a Final Hearing.
What Happens in a Dispute Resolution Hearing for a Financial Matter?
The process for a Dispute Resolution Hearing regarding a financial applications is very similar to that of a children's matter.
The First Hearing in a financial matter is known as the First Directions Appointment. If the matter is straightforward and all the relevant information has already been disclosed, the Court may also use this as the Dispute Resolution Hearing. If not the Court will list directions on the issues that are in dispute, so that further progress can be made at the next hearing.
At the Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) Hearing, all those involved will get the chance to negotiate and hopefully resolve the matters between them. The Judge will take an active role and may express a view as to how the issues can be resolved if the matter proceeds to a Final Hearing.
If the matter is resolved during the hearing, a Final Order will be made. If the matter is not resolved it will then be listed for a Final Hearing.