What happens after I apply for a court order about my child?

After you apply, you should get a reference number from the court if you don’t already have one.

You'll also get a date for the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA), or first hearing for short.

You’ll be known as the applicant, and the other parent the respondent.

First hearing

Before the first hearing, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) will get information from you and the other parent about the situation. Cafcass may also make some checks with your local council, social workers and the police.

Cafcass will set out its findings in a letter with any recommendations it has about how to take your case forward.

At the hearing, the court will try to find out what the dispute is about and what needs to be decided. It may ask you to outline what the problem is and what you want the court to do. This is called a position statement.

The court will look into your child’s needs, circumstances and interests, and whether there is any risk of harm. It may want to know what the wishes and feelings of the children are, too.

In cases involving domestic abuse, the court will decide whether a fact-finding hearing is necessary to establish what has and hasn't happened.

The information helps the judge reach a decision that’s in the best interests of the child.

The outcome of the first hearing

There are a few possible outcomes:

  • You come to an agreement with the other parent. The judge can give legal force to your agreement by issuing a court order.
  • You cannot agree with the other parent and no one is deemed to be at risk. The court may set a date for a final hearing.
  • The judge adjourns (puts off) your case until another hearing. This means the judge wants more time, for example, so that:
    • you and the other parent can spend more time coming to an agreement
    • you and the other parent can make statements at another hearing
    • the court can get more information or evidence before making a decision at a final hearing
    • the court can hold a fact-finding hearing about any allegations made

If your case is adjourned

While you wait for the next hearing, the judge may set some rules about child contact and other arrangements before making a final decision. This is known as an interim order.

Final hearing

At the final hearing, the judge will consider all the evidence available and come to a final decision.

You may be asked to speak in court to tell your story and give evidence. You may be asked questions, and the other side will have a chance to do the same.

The judge will listen to both sides, come to a decision – such as issuing a court order – and give reasons for it.

These are the possible outcomes of a final hearing:

  • the judge issues a court order giving details of any arrangements
  • the judge decides it's better not to issue a court order
  • the judge reserves judgment, which means they need some more time; often they'll pass their decision on in writing or ask you to come back another day to hear it

If you are unhappy with the outcome, you may be able to appeal.

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