FHDRA – First Hearing

The First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) is a key court appointment in family law cases. The court will identify key issues and provide directions for future case conduct, possibly involving CAFCASS officers, welfare reports, and expert assessments. It may lead to final agreements or proceed to a final hearing. Allocated typically for an hour, the hearing's timing can vary. Consulting a lawyer in advance is advisable due to the hearing's significance.
UK Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration
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The first hearing which takes place before the court (either in person or by Teams), is known as a FHDRA – this stands for "First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment".

What to expect at a FHDRA

Unless this appointment is simply adjourned because, for example, there is no safeguarding letter currently available, this can be one of the most important court appointments within the court process. It is here that the court will be giving consideration to what the issues are and providing directions for the future conduct of the case.

The court hearing may well be attended by the duty CAFCASS Officer to speak to or give consideration with the judge to any of the issues that might have arisen in the safeguarding letter and both parties will be given the opportunity of speaking to the judge to identify their position and expectations for the future conduct of the case.

A number of the directions that the court might give consideration to (though each case is specific on its circumstances) might well be:-

  • Whether there are welfare issues which would require CAFCASS or social services to undertake section 7 report to help advise the court as to the outcome of the proceedings;
  • Whether drug and alcohol testing of one or both parties may be required;
  • Whether a fact finding in relation to allegations of domestic abuse needs to be undertaken;
  • Whether GP reports in regards to general health and/or mental health may be required;
  • Whether psychological assessments or other expert assessments might be required;
  • Whether it would be appropriate to appoint a guardian and solicitor to represent the interests of the children.

In the event of such directions being required, the court will also give consideration to how long each of those events might take and when the relevant material and documentation should be lodged with the court.

I will look, in more detail, at some of these particular directions, such as fact finding and/or expert reports later within this series of articles.

The court may also, however, decide that if there are no particular welfare issues and/or specific fact finding matters that need to be dealt with separately and independently, that the case can proceed to a final hearing with direction for the filing of statements simply from the parties and any witnesses (again, this appointment would determine what witnesses and how many may be required).

This would generally be in the case where, for example, there is no dispute that an Applicant is having contact with his children incorporating and including overnight contact and the question is whether that should be extended by a single night or not.

It is also possible (though not as common as perhaps the court would like) that at this particular hearing with the CAFCASS safeguarding report and assistance from CAFCASS, lawyers if appointed, and the court itself that a final settlement can be achieved, i.e, if a negotiated agreement is reached which the court and CAFCASS are content is safe and appropriate for the children and the parties are content with the outcome, then the court can, if necessary, record that in an order and bring the proceedings to a conclusion.

How long is a FHDRA?

The court will usually allocate about an hour for these appointments. If dealt with on Teams then, unless the court is running particularly behind, they will usually start at the time specified for the hearing but if it is an attended hearing, the court may well have listed a number of matters for consideration around about the same time and therefore there is no certainty that the application will take place at the specified time. Therefore, in the event that the court appointment particularly is to be an attended one at the court building, thought should be given to the amount of time that will be required beyond that which may be thought of say, listed at 11 for an hour, finish by 12. Consequently, if arrangements for children are needed to be made to ensure there is a plan in place to avoid panic about picking them up from school, etc, that should be undertaken prior to attending the hearing itself.

In the event that the hearing takes place by way of Teams, one of the initial starting points from the court's point of view will be to ensure that everybody understands that nobody is allowed to record the hearing itself and that each of the parties are in an appropriate safe, secure location where they can conduct the hearing without anybody else being present or able to overhear what is occurring.

Given that the importance of the proceedings, if possible, I would advise that a lawyer should be consulted in advance to give consideration to some of the more difficult directions that might be sought and in the event that you cannot afford for a lawyer to attend every single hearing, this would be one of the more important appointments to do so.

If you would like to discuss FHDRA or have any queries relating to what might occur at a FHDRA and would now like more information on the different types of proceedings relating to children, please get in touch with our Family team, we would be happy to assist you.

This article is part of a series on Private Family Law and Children Law proceedings. If you would like to learn more about the rules around parental responsibility, contact, holidays and arrangements for separated parents, please click here for the full series.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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