Once you have made your application to the Court your First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) will be listed within 12 weeks. During that time your application is sent to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).
CAFCASS are professionals completely separate from the Court who investigate any safeguarding concerns regarding children and represent the interests of the child. They will conduct background checks with the Police and Social Services in relation to both parents. Closer to the time of your First Hearing they will contact both you and your ex-partner for a telephone interview to discuss your application. They will then prepare an initial report to the Court which is usually made available 2 – 3 days before the First Hearing.
This report will share any findings from the background checks, along with a brief summary of the telephone interviews with each parent and recommendations on how to move the case forward.
In some cases the CAFCASS Officer will simply state that the Court will need to determine whichever issue it is being asked to determine. They may suggest that the parents put together a parenting plan or attend a separated parenting course. In this situation if parents cannot reach an agreement at the First Hearing it is likely the matter will be listed for a Final Hearing and the Court will make whatever Order it believes is in the child’s best interests. Parties may be directed to file statements before the final hearing setting out what Order they seek from the Court and why they believe it is best for the child.
In other more complex cases there may be a need for further investigation. The Court may ask CAFCASS to complete a further more detailed report, and may ask the CAFCASS Officer to obtain the child’s wishes and feelings on the matter. This is known as a Section 7 Report. In these situations parties will return to Court for a further review hearing after the Report has been completed.
In the most serious of cases the Court may have to determine certain facts before a decision can be made regarding the welfare of the children. In situations where one or both parents are making serious allegations against the other, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence or parental alienation the Court may list the matter for a Finding of Fact Hearing in order to determine the truth of the allegations. It is strongly recommended that you seek representation if you are going through a Finding of Fact Hearing as this can have serious consequences both short and long term.
Court Proceedings can either be fairly straightforward and resolve within 12 weeks, or they can unfortunately be very difficult and last years. Much of it boils down to what the issues are and the individual circumstances of each case. Most are resolved within 6 – 12 months and parties are then able to move forward and hopefully move towards parenting separately in a much more harmonious way. Good advice and representation can be invaluable when dealing with the Court system and applications for a Section 8 Order.
If you would like to discuss your case, confidentially with one of our experienced solicitors then please contact Stephanie Layton on 0191 232 8345.