FHDRA stands for ‘First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment’ – and is quite a mouthful just to say. For many people, particularly those representing themselves, this first hearing in court cases involving children can be a daunting experience.
Just what happens at this first hearing, and what should you expect?
So, you’ve made your application to court. It may well be for a Child Arrangements Order. You’ve received notification from the court that the date for the FHDRA has been set. What comes next?
The first thing to look out for happens before the FHDRA. You should receive a ‘Schedule 2’ letter from CAFCASS. Someone from CAFCASS is likely to speak with you and the other parent to find out the views of you both, and CAFCASS will also undertake basic police and social services checks. Their findings will be set out in the letter, together with their preliminary recommendations, if they are able to make any.
At the FHDRA, no evidence such as statements are normally allowed. This is because at the FHDRA the court will focus on what the issues are and, depending on those issues, how should they progress your case. The court will want to know what it is you are looking for and why – so it will help your case if you come to court with your proposals. Similarly, the court will want to know what the other person feels about your proposals. If you can agree things between you, then this agreement can be recorded in a binding court order at the FHDRA, and you could find your case is finished at the first hearing.
At some courts, there will be a duty CAFCASS officer available at the FHDRA. Look out for them and ask to speak with them. They will try and ‘mediate’ an agreement between you and the other person. Sometimes they will come into court and offer a recommendation on any areas of disagreement.
If there are allegations of violence from you against the other person, or from them against you, one of the key decisions a court will have to make is whether a ‘finding of fact’ is necessary. This is a separate court hearing where a court will decide whether allegations are true or not. A court will need to consider whether a finding of fact is necessary for it to deal with your case. For example, will a finding of fact have an impact on the other parent having contact or on the possibility of your child staying with the other person? If so, a court will sometimes ask you to prepare a table or ‘schedule’ of your allegations. The court will limit the number you can rely on. You will be directed to prepare a statement in support of your case. The other person will be entitled to reply and he/she will be directed to respond.
Sometimes the court will decide that more information or more evidence is needed, such as evidence from the police or social services. If there are concerns about one of you using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol, the court may order drugs testing or alcohol testing. At the FHDRA, the court can also make directions dealing with these issues.
The court may call on CAFCASS to prepare a report at the FHDRA. The report may be detailed regarding risks or concerns against the other person; it is called a Section 7 report. You, the other person and your children will usually meet someone from CAFCASS. They will speak with the children, consider evidence from the police and come up with a recommendation. If your children are of an age where they are mature enough to make their own decisions, their opinions may be considered in a specific ‘wishes and feelings report’ also by CAFCASS.
If you and the other person simply cannot agree and there are no risks, then a court will probably set your case down for a final hearing where you will both have to prepare statements with your proposals and the reasons for them.
In conclusion, a lot can happen at the FHDRA – it is arguably the most important hearing in your case. Get it wrong or miss something out and you could face delays. Even worse, it could seriously harm your case.
If you wish to be represented at the FHDRA, would like some more help to prepare yourself at the FHDRA or have already had the FHDRA and have realized you need some help, please call me Imran Khodabocus on 01392 284 851 for appointments in Exeter or 01823 785070 for appointments in Taunton.
We can assess you for legal aid and in some emergency situations, grant you legal aid in our initial meeting. Even if you don’t qualify, your initial appointment is always free.