The short answer is “it depends”.
If the hearing is the first hearing it is likely that the court will be focussing on identifying the issues in dispute and working out what steps need to be taken before a final decision can be reached – the court does not always resolve thing at the first hearing although this is possible if matters are agreed.
There are different types of hearing which are explained and listed below, but the court will adapt the hearing format depending on what the case requires. We’ve prepared some flowcharts for children and financial cases that will give you a rough idea of where each hearing might fit into the overall process although every case is different (See also I don’t understand how courts work).
You could also read Practice Direction 12B “The Child Arrangements Programme” which sets out the process for disputes within families about arrangements for children in more detail, and Part 9 of the Family Procedure Rules for financial cases (although this might be a bit more difficult to follow). See also leaflet CB7.
Some hearings will be dealt with by a panel of 3 Magistrates (sometimes 2) assisted by a Legal Adviser, others by judges (legally qualified). We’ve used the term “Judge” below to refer to both Judges and Magistrates.
At every hearing all parties should be given a chance to have their say (be patient, usually judges will organise things so you take turns) before any decisions are made, but the judge will need to refocus everyone on the things s/he needs to hear about in order to make a decision in order to get through the case. Sometimes a judge will need to postpone dealing with some issues and just deal with part of the dispute at one hearing, perhaps because some information is missing or there isn’t time. Court hearings should proceed on the basis that everyone, including the judge, has seen all the paperwork relied upon by any party in advance.
Directions hearing / Case Management Hearing / Case Management Conference (CMC / CMH)
This is generally a short hearing to sort out procedural and practical matters and to get the case ready for a hearing where a full decision will be made. The court might make directions setting a date for you to submit your evidence for example.
First Directions Appointment (FDA)
A FDA generally refers to the first hearing in connection with a financial dispute on divorce, before which both you and your ex should have sent each other and the court your completed Form E Financial disclosure. The court will consider whether there is any outstanding information needed (for example a valuation on your home or pension) or if the case is ready for you to move towards attempting to resolve it by agreement. If appropriate the court may treat the hearing as a FDR (see below).
First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA)
This refers to the first hearing in connection with an application about children (for example a dispute about where children should live), at which the court will consider preliminary safeguarding checks on the family and will attempt to resolve the matter or identify the range of dispute if this is not possible. A CAFCASS Officer may be present and may attempt to help you reach agreement. No evidence is necessary or permitted at a FHDRA and the court will usually only make orders about contact by agreement or to confirm the status quo. The court will consider whether or not further directions are needed, such as a report from CAFCASS.
Dispute Resolution Appointment / Hearing (DRA)
This refers to a subsequent hearing in a children matter, usually after receipt of a further piece of information such as a report from CAFCASS. The court will identify and hopefully narrow the issues, and will try and encourage the parties to resolve the matter. If it cannot be resolved the judge will usually fix the case for a final hearing.
Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment / Hearing (FDR)
Once disclosure is complete the court will hear a summary of the parties positions and will give guidance as to what the likely outcome would be at trial and as to how reasonable each party’s position is. The judge will allow time for both parties to negotiate having heard her advice and will encourage the matter to be agreed. If it can’t be agreed that judge will drop out of the case and a trial will be listed.
Pre-Hearing Review / Pre-Trial Review (PTR / PHR)
A short hearing in the run up to a trial / final hearing to make sure everything is ready for the trial to go ahead.
A hearing to see how things are going. Generally the court will only make directions to get the matter ready for a trial or orders that are agreed.
Return date hearing
Sometimes an injunction is made before the person affected by it is told. If that happens the court will list a hearing so they can object to the making of the order if they want. This is called the return date hearing. Usually only a short hearing so if there is a dispute the matter usually has to be fixed for a trial so the court can hear evidence.
Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH)
A hearing in public law (care) proceedings that takes place once all the evidence has been circulated, to see if matters can be agreed.
Fact Finding Hearing (sometimes called a Re L hearing)
Sometimes there is a factual dispute about what has happened in the past that is so important that the court needs to decide who is telling the truth before working out what to do next – this often happens where someone alleges domestic violence or child abuse which is denied by the other person. In such cases the court may hold a separate trial to deal with those allegations first, before going on to think about what is best for the children. This hearing is called a fact finding hearing. The judge will decide on the balance of probabilities whether something did or did not happen (See I don’t understand how courts work).
Trial / Final hearing
If the court has been unable to resolve the dispute at an earlier hearing it will list a longer hearing giving time for the parties to have their say and usually to call witnesses to give evidence.
We recommend you view the videos showing in the right hand menu of this page, along with others on the video resource page and that you look at the Advice Now Guides and the Coram Children’s Centre factsheets.
Feature image courtesy of Haldean Brown on Flickr – thanks :-)