Going to court can be a stressful and confusing experience – especially if you haven’t previously been required to attend a hearing or had any prior dealings with the legal system.
Whilst it is possible to go to court without a solicitor to represent you, it can be overwhelming. Cases involving family matters, such as divorce or child arrangement (formerly known as custody) issues, can be especially difficult. This is not only because family law is complex, but also because your emotions are likely to be heightened by the sensitive nature of your case.
It’s always advisable to have professional legal representation when you are involved in court proceedings. Read on to find out more, along with an outline of your options if you can’t afford to appoint a solicitor to handle your case.
What do court proceedings mean?
If you’re involved in an issue involving family law – for example, if you can’t agree on a financial settlement with your former partner in the event of a divorce or can’t agree on arrangements for your children – you may need the courts to step in and make a decision.
If it is the case that court intervention is needed, an application will be made to the Family Court. The Court will serve a copy of your application on the other party and if it is a children matter, Cafcass will be involved to conduct background checks and make initial enquiries. The Court will ultimately make a final decision, following an opportunity for both sides to put their case forward.
Proceedings can occur over several hearings, meaning that you may be required to return to court a number of times, present information such as witness statements or respond to allegations made by the other party.
What happens when court proceedings are issued?
To begin court proceedings, you’ll first need to file details of your application with the Family Court. The parties are referred to as the Applicant (the person bringing the case) and the Respondent (the person the case is being brought against).
Your solicitor can complete these documents for you if you have legal representation. You’ll then be required to sign the documents to confirm the details provided are accurate and truthful.
The First Hearing: After an application has been made to the Court, a First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) will be set. The Court will use this initial hearing to develop an understanding of the case. You may be asked to prepare a Position Statement for this hearing, which explains your position to the Court and the Defendant.
If your case involves children, for example in the event of a child arrangements (custody) dispute, a representative from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will be present at the FHDRA. They may also have been asked to prepare a statement regarding the wellbeing and welfare of any children involved.
Where appropriate, the Court may recommend during this initial hearing that mediation take place in order to try and bring an early resolution to the case.
It’s also possible that the Court will issue an interim order at the first hearing where serious allegations have been made – in the event of concerns around a child’s welfare, the Court may stipulate that only supervised visitation can take place as the case progresses, for example.
Additional possible outcomes include:
- Scheduling a Dispute Resolution Hearing
- Scheduling a Fact Finding Hearing
- Requesting reports or additional statements be prepared
- Scheduling a Final Hearing
Dispute Resolution Appointment: If a Dispute Resolution Appointment has been scheduled, this hearing will see the main issues of the case identified. The Court will hear evidence around those issues and will determine if those issues can be resolved at the hearing.
If no resolution is possible, the appointment will set out any further evidence required for the next stage of the proceedings. This may involve a request for additional reports to be compiled or statements to be filed ahead of the final hearing.
Fact Finding Hearing: Commonly when a case goes to court, the parties involved dispute the other’s version of events. In some cases, the disputed allegations are so serious that the Court must investigate and decide whether it needs to resolve the facts before it is able to make a final decision as to what is best for the child.Prior to the hearing taking place, a numbered list of allegations must be prepared and presented to the Court.
The Court will hear details of the incidents listed and will then determine whether the allegations made are true or false, in line with the evidence heard.
Witness statements from anyone associated with the case, such as members of the police or medical professionals, may also be required.
Final Hearing: The final hearing is the last stage in court proceedings. All evidence is considered so that a final decision can be made. In the case of children related disputes, a Child Arrangement Order may be issued at the final hearing to formally set out where the child should live and how much contact they should have with each parent.
How will legal representation help my case?
Going to court can be a nerve-wracking, stressful, and lengthy process. If you aren’t a legal professional, it can also be confusing and frustrating.
Appointing a solicitor ensures that you have an experienced professional at your side who understands the court process and the legal system. They can provide expert, impartial legal advice, recommend a suitable course of action, and help with practical tasks which as completing paperwork, preparing witness statements, gathering reports and filing documentation with the court.
A solicitor can also speak on your behalf in court to ensure that key information is conveyed and work to secure the best outcome for you.
If you’re involved in court proceedings, you should seek professional legal advice as soon as possible. Contact us to arrange an initial consultation.