We understand that the court process is unfamiliar territory to the majority of people, and that you may need help understanding how the process works and exactly what role the court plays in determining the outcome of your case.
Here we explain the key stages to the court process, whether in relation to financial proceedings or those relating to children.
In the majority of cases there are three stages to the court process:
The First Appointment (the first hearing):
This is largely an administrative hearing where the court will consider what information it needs in order to be able to decide what the final outcome should be. If both people are willing then it can sometimes be used as an opportunity to negotiate but this really depends upon the particular case.
The Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (the second hearing):
At this hearing the court is given a summary of each party’s position and asked to provide an indication as to what they believe the outcome would be if they were formally hearing this case. The idea behind this is that it allows for the parties to negotiate to try and reach an agreement.
However, it is important to remember that:
- The court will not go into the detail of the case but will focus on the big picture;
- The court cannot make a final decision at this hearing;
- This hearing is conducted on a “Without Prejudice” basis (essentially off the record) to allow everyone to negotiate without fear that the position they adopt will be held against them;
- The Judge who hears this hearing is not allowed to hear the final hearing.
If the parties do not agree then the court will give directions for what needs to happen before the final hearing.
The final hearing (the third hearing):
At this hearing the court will hear evidence from both parties and make a final decision about the outcome.
Children Act proceedings
The court procedure in Children Act proceedings can vary depending upon the particular application that is being made and the circumstances of the case. The information set out below is only a guide and the court may sometimes feel that the case needs to be kept under review for a period of time due to changing circumstances before a final determination can be made.
First hearing dispute resolution appointment (the first hearing):
This hearing has traditionally been an administrative hearing where the court will decide what further information it needs and put in place directions to get that information. This might include getting an expert report to assess what is in the child’s best interests.
More recently there has been a shift towards this hearing being used to determine the issues of the case. Whether that is appropriate will depend upon the particular case but what this emphasises is that both parties need to be prepared for the court to take an active role at an early stage.
Dispute Resolution appointment (the second hearing):
At this hearing the court will often try and narrow the issues, consider any expert evidence that has been received and decide whether any factual circumstances have been raised that need to be considered in a separate hearing.
Again, depending upon the circumstances, some courts are using this as an opportunity to get more involved in the case than perhaps they have done previously.
At this hearing the court will hear evidence and, if appropriate, make a final order. However, it is important to remember that because circumstances change a final order does not necessarily prevent a party from making a further application.