Help! What happens at the first hearing?

So the mediation didn’t work if you even got there. Your ex has refused to discuss things with you, has delayed and or refused mediation and you’ve had no option but to submit at an application to the court.

It’s something you’ve tried to avoid but you had no other option and you’re dreading it. The first hearing is looming. What the hell do you do???

OK. It’s easy for me to say this because it’s a) not my children and b) I’ve assisted in more cases than you’ve probably had hot dinners but…don’t panic. Scratch that…try not to panic. Like I say, it’s easy for me to say that. It’s not a comfortable place and if there is a coffee machine let’s just say it isn’t likely to impress any experts.

If you’ve got a solicitor (a barrister would be overkill for a first hearing and the only thing more extreme is to take both a barrister and a solicitor but it does happen from time to time) things can be easier in some ways. They’ll sort out everything on the day or at least they should. After all – that’s what you are paying them in excess of £260 an hour, right?

If you haven’t, you’re either on your lonesome or you have one of our talented, charismatic and good-looking team members by your side who’ll make sure that any surprises you’ll face are kept to bear minimum.

You’re first hearing will be a FHDRA (fer-hydra as they pronounce it – a First Heading Dispute Resolution Appointment).

Here are some basics to remember:

  1. Write a position statement beforehand (we can help). 2 pages maximum. No, really. Two. Pages. I don’t care how complicated your case is. No one will read your own take on `War and Peace’ in the ten minutes before the hearing. Your position statement will have a brief history of the situation. It’ll have the issues you are facing. Finally it’ll say what you want ordered. This last bit…if you are asking the court to order stuff it can’t you are wasting your time, printer ink and a good opportunity to make a good case. I don’t want to see stuff like `I want my ex to acknowledge what he/she has done‘ or `I want what he/she has done on public record‘. It dilutes you’re case while making you look petty. Take at least 4 copies on the day, handing one to the usher (the ones in black robes…if you can find one) before you go in.
  2. Get there an hour early. And take a book and/or music. There is usually a lot of sitting around.
  3. Find out what court room you’re in. They’re usually on the wall with your case number (make sure you have it before you go to court). Check in with an usher so they know you are there and where you are.
  4. Very often a CAFCASS officer will be there to see if any agreement can be made. Be child-focused at all times but clear about what it is you are seeking. Don’t agree to something unless you are really sure you do agree. This is important (and make sure the court is clear on this when you go into the courtroom too).
  5. If your ex has a solicitor be nice. Whether you feel they are being helpful or not behaving badly will likely come back to bite you one way or another. They’re doing a job and don’t have a personal dislike of you – they kind of have to believe what their client (who as I say is paying them £260 an hour) is telling them. If there are things you can agree…great (you don’t have to agree on everything but it’s all to the good if you can reduce the number of things you’re arguing about). If your ex doesn’t have a solicitor it’s often worth waiting until you get into court to avoid risking inflaming an already tense situation.
  6. You’ll either see one judge or (usually three) magistrates. Call them sir’ or `madam’ as appropriate. You won’t be criticised for using the wrong words if you are using common courtesy.
  7. Use your position statement as your basis for why you are there.
  8. Don’t get sidetracked.
  9. Make sure you take notes (although I’d say you should never go into court alone unless you can speak, listen and take notes at the same time). Note what is said, who said it, times and what is agreed.
  10. Make sure you get an electronic/paper copy of the order before you leave. The order will list what contact, etc. is ordered, when the next hearing is and anything else the court has decided to happen.

That’s it. Don’t be surprised if any of the above doesn’t happen, is done differently, etc. Different courts have different ways of doing things and the real secret is to be able to keep abreast of what is going on as it happens. Most of the action takes place outside the courtroom – with our assistance many of our clients have been able to negotiate an order by `consent’ (agreement) which is the best outcome by the time you are actually in the court system. A consent order is also often seen as stronger because the parties have agreed on it.

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