What should I expect at the Dispute Resolution Appointment?
The Dispute Resolution Appointment, known as the ‘DRA’ is the second main hearing in the proceedings. By the date of this hearing it is expected that all evidence from the parties themselves will have been received, and that any reports from experts, Cafcass or the Social Worker will have been completed and considered by the parties.
The parties and any legal representatives will be ordered to attend at least an hour before the hearing is due to start, for discussions and negotiation. It is hoped that the arrangements for the child can be agreed during those discussions, but sometimes it needs a further indication from the Judge or Magistrates as to the likely position of the Court before this can be achieved. These discussions will not take place if both parties are representing themselves.
The Court will hear from both parties/representatives, and from Cafcass or the Social Worker (if ordered to attend) as to what arrangements have been agreed, and what remains outstanding, if anything, and will try and assist the parties to finalise agreement.
Paragraph 19 of Practice Direction 12B sets down the process for the DRA and at Paragraph 19.3 states as follows :-
At the DRA the Court will:-
(1) Identify the key issue(s) (if any) to be determined and the extent to which those issues can be resolved or narrowed at the DRA;
(2) Consider whether the DRA can be used as a final hearing;
(3) Resolve or narrow the issues by hearing evidence;
(4) Identify the evidence to be heard on the issues which remain to be resolved at the final hearing;
(5) Give final case management directions including:
(a) Filing of further evidence;
(b) Filing of a statement of facts/issues remaining to be determined;
(c) Filing of a witness template and / or skeleton arguments;
(d) Ensuring Compliance with Practice Direction 27A (the Bundles Practice Direction);
(e) Listing the Final Hearing.
In practice, it not usual for the Court to hear oral evidence as there is not sufficient time. The parties positions will be summarised for the Court, with reference to documentary evidence already submitted, and setting out any concerns which have not been resolved or further issues that may have arisen. If agreement can be reached then the DRA will be treated as the final hearing and a final order made. If the arrangements cannot be finalised then the case will be listed for a final hearing. Depending on the circumstances of a particular case, the issues that need to be unresolved, and the number of witnesses, the final hearing can last from a couple of hours to several days.
Between the DRA and the final hearing, it is expected that the negotiations will continue in the hope that agreement can be reached and an agreed Child Arrangements Order submitted to the Court for approval and the final hearing vacated (taken out of the Court list). Alternatively the hearing can remain in the list but the Court will be notified that the hearing will be shorter in time and no oral evidence needs to be given.
Contact Activity Direction
The Children and Adoption Act 2006 introduced the option of a Contact Activity Direction, and these could be ordered by the Court from 8th December 2008. They are made at FHDRA or DRA.
According to Section 11A(3) of the Children Act 1989
An activity direction is a direction requiring an individual who is a party to the proceedings concerned to take part in an activity that would, in the court's opinion, help to establish, maintain or improve the involvement in the life of the child concerned of—
(a) that individual, or
(b) another individual who is a party to the proceedings.
The direction will specify the activity and who is to provide the activity.
Paragraph 5 of Section 11A states that the activities that may be required particularly include :-
(a) Programmes, classes and counselling or guidance sessions of a kind that –
(i) may assist a person as regards establishing, maintaining or improving involvement in a child’s life;
(ii) may, by addressing a person’s violent behaviour, enable or facilitate involvement in a child’s life
(b) sessions in which information or advice is given as regards making or operating arrangements for involvement in a child’s life, including making arrangements by means of mediation
Contact Activity Direction can include a referral to the Separating Parents Information Programme or Domestic Violence Prevention Programme.
The Court cannot direct that a person undergoes medical or psychiatric examination, assessment or treatment or that they take part in mediation.
If the Court has made an activity direction in relation to determining where a child is to live or the time spent with another person, it cannot bring the proceedings to an end whilst the Contact Activity Direction remains in force. Neither can it bring proceedings to an end if it is considering whether a person has failed to comply with a Child Arrangements Order or is considering what steps to take in consequence of a person’s failure to comply with the provisions of a Child Arrangements Order.
As with all other orders and directions the welfare of the child is to be the Court’s paramount consideration.
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