FHDRA (First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment)
So, you have begun the process of securing a Child Arrangements Order. You’ve received notification from the court that the date for the FHDRA has been set. What happens next? 
Before the hearing takes place, it is likely that a Family Court Advisor from CAFCASS will be in touch. They will speak with you and the other parent to find out the views of you both. They may also undertake basic Police and Social Services checks. Their findings will be set out in the letter, together with their preliminary recommendations, if they have any and will be presented to the court. 
At the FHDRA, no evidence such as statements are normally allowed. This is because the purpose of the FHDRA is to focus on identifying the issues and deciding how the case should progress. The court will want to know what it is you are looking for and why – so it will help your case if you come to court with your proposals. Similarly, the court will want to know what the other person feels about your proposals. If you can agree things between you, then this agreement can be recorded in a binding court order at the FHDRA, and you could find your case is finished at the first hearing. 
If there are allegations of violence against either partner, one of the key decisions a court will have to make is whether a ‘fact finding’ is necessary. This is a separate court hearing where a court will decide whether allegations are true or not. 
Sometimes the court will decide that more information or more evidence is needed, such as evidence from the police or social services. If there are concerns about one of you using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol, the court may order drugs testing or alcohol testing. At the FHDRA, the court can also make directions dealing with these issues. 
The court may call on CAFCASS to prepare a report at the FHDRA. It is called a Section 7 report. You, the other person and your children will usually meet someone from CAFCASS. If your children are of an age where they are mature enough to make their own decisions, their opinions may be considered in a specific ‘wishes and feelings report’ also by CAFCASS. 
If you and the other person simply cannot agree and there are no risks, then a court will probably set your case down for a final hearing where you will both have to prepare statements with your proposals and the reasons for them. 
The First Hearing, Dispute Resolution Appointment is arguably the most hearing in your case. If you are unsupported at this hearing, the risk of missing something or getting something wrong is high. It could bring delays or worse still, it could seriously harm your case. 
McKenzie Picave has successfully supported many clients through this vital first appearance in court. 
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