What happens after I send the application to Court?
Once an application for a order concerning a child is sent to the Court and the appropriate fee has been paid, the Court staff will issue the papers with a case number and will pass the application to a District Judge for consideration of the issues and allocation of the matter to the appropriate Court. The case number will always begin with two initials which represent the Family Court that has issued the application, for example Preston will always begin PR, followed by the year that the application has been issued, eg ’20’ for 2020, we will then have the letter P to identity it as a children case, and the final part is the number of cases reached. For example, XX20PO1234 will show this matter as being issued in the XX Family Court, in 2020, it is a children case, and it is the 1,234th children case that has been issued in 2020.
Any application involving a child will be heard by the nearest Family Court to where the child lives – unless permission has been granted for it to be heard elsewhere, normally in cases where the child and parent have fled domestic violence, the parent with care of the child is the one making the application, and to give the other parent any idea of the area in which they are living in likely to put them at risk of harm.
Depending on the issues that the Court needs to consider, the matter will either be listed before a District Judge (if the issues are more complex) or Legal Adviser and the Magistrates. If a matter begins before the Legal Adviser/Magistrates but the issues become more complex as the case progresses, the case can transfer up to a District Judge. Similarly, if the more complex issues are resolved, the case can be transferred from a District Judge to the Legal Adviser/Magistrates.
The Court office will then send out a sealed copy of the application(s), the order made at allocation and gatekeeping, and a Notice of Proceedings confirming the time and date of the first hearing, to all parties and will also send an acknowledgement form to any respondent and if required a blank C1A form. In practice, it is not often that the acknowledgement form is returned, and this does not affect the case in any way.
A copy of any application will also be sent to Cafcass which will carry out safeguarding checks before the first hearing, which is known as the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment shortened to FHDRA (and referred to by the pronunciation ‘fedra’). To enable Cafcass time to carry out safeguarding, the FHDRA will be listed around 6 weeks after the application has been heard by the Court.
As a result of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, which led to the Courts hearing cases remotely, and delays in some cases, a new procedure was introduced. Once the application has been issued, Cafcass will prepare its safeguarding letter for the Court which will detail the outcome of its enquiries, and there will then be a further discussion between Cafcass and the Judge to determine what the next steps should be. The case could simply be listed for first hearing, or the Court could also set some 'directions' which is a list of what needs to happen or what evidence needs to be provided before the first hearing. A common direction is for the filing of statements by the parties on a particular issue. The first hearing will take place after the date that the evidence should have been provided.