What Happens at a Directions Hearing in the Family Court?
25 October 2018
When an application is made to the Family Courts, for example for a Child Arrangement Order, you are likely to be asked to attend a Directions hearing, and this will be the beginning of the process. We explain what you can expect to happen before and during the Directions hearing.
What Happens before the Directions Hearing?
The Court will inform all of the individuals involved as well as Cafcass that the matter will be listed for a Directions hearing. Cafcass is an independent organisation who aim to look at the welfare and best interests of children when they are involved in Court proceedings.
Prior to the hearing, the Court will often ask a Cafcass officer to carry out a Schedule 2 Safeguarding Report. This is a report that includes basic police or background checks of all those involved, in order to give the judge a better understanding of who everyone is.
Cafcass will also carry out telephone appointments with the people involved to discuss matters. These calls are usually held roughly two weeks before the Directions hearing is scheduled to take place. This will again give the Cafcass officer a greater understanding of the matter.
What Happens during the Directions Hearing?
You may also hear a Directions hearing being referred to as a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA).
Everyone involved will arrive at the Court one hour before the hearing is due to begin. The purpose of this is for discussions to take place, giving those involved an opportunity to discuss the matter with their barrister or Family Law Solicitor, for example, before the hearing begins.
The individuals and their representatives will then be called into the courtroom, where they will either be before a Legal Advisor, Magistrates or a Judge, depending on the severity of the details of the application. A Cafcass officer will also be present at the hearing.
The hearing will begin with the Court introductions. Each of the people involved will next individually meet with the Cafcass officer. During this time, an agreement may or may not be reached. The Cafcass officer and the individuals will then return to the courtroom, and the officer will provide feedback on what has taken place during the discussions. If an agreement was reached, then the judge will have the ability to make a final Order detailing this agreement.
If No Agreement is Reached
If an agreement cannot be reached, the Court will proceed to set the matter for a further hearing, known as a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA). The judge will also provide directions that will need to be complied with before the next hearing. The directions that are given are largely dependent on the nature and facts of the case.
Often, a Section 7 Report is carried out by Cafcass. What is included in the report depends on what the Court asks for. The report may include discussing with the child involved about their feelings or wishes and speaking to other various people, such as teachers, who might be able to provide insight into the best interests of the child.
Directions may also include drug or alcohol testing, or any investigations in regards to any abuse allegations that may have been made. Witness statements may also be asked for. The directions given are largely at the discretion of the court and can vary significantly.
Once directions are complied with, you will then be ready to move onto the next stage of the process, being the second hearing.
At Co-op Legal Services, our Family Law Solicitors can offer legal advice on matters involving children. We can provide guidance throughout the process, helping you to prepare for Court hearings and supporting you through the hearing itself.