Sometimes, family life can be difficult and family members may run into problems. Sometimes, issues can’t be sorted out by themselves and families need assistance. To solve the problem, family courts may get involved.

The family court is very different to a criminal court. The judge at a family court listens to what everyone has to say, and in children matters always has, as their paramount concern the welfare of the children.. Decisions in relation to children and finances (including child maintenance) are very much separate. The Court, in general, does not have power to order for child maintenance. This is dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

A first hearing dispute resolution appointment (FHDRA) is the first hearing after an application has been made to the court where one party seeks to sort out arrangements for children. This can take the form of an order for a child to live with a party (Child Arrangement Order), spend time with a party (Child Arrangement Order), prevent a party exercising their parental responsibility in a particular way (Prohibited Steps Order) or an order to resolve a specific issue in dispute (Specific Issue Order) This is an opportunity to see if parties can reach an agreement without the Court determining the same. The judge will attempt to assist parties at this stage to reach an agreement. If an agreement cannot be reached the Court will decide what further information, if any, is needed to make a decision.

If parties are in agreement, a final order will be made providing there are no safeguarding concerns. A final order details the agreement reached and is binding upon the parties in the sense that it can be enforced. If parties cannot reach an agreement, the court then looks at the areas of disagreement.

It is common for a further hearing to take place once all evidence is available in one final attempt for an agreement. This is called a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA). In some cases, the Court may decide that this hearing is not necessary.

If agreement cannot be reached at a Dispute Resolution Appointment or this hearing is dispensed with a Final Hearing will take place.

During a final hearing, the judge considers all evidence provided and applies the appropriate law. Once a decision is made this is binding upon the parties whether they agree to it or not. It is better for parties to agree matters themselves than have one imposed upon them by the Court.

You should be aware that ordinarily you will be expected to attend all hearings. If you do not attend hearing orders may be made in your absence. If you require any more information, contact us on 0113 284 5000.