Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) – also known as Dispute Resolution Hearing (DRH) – is usually the second hearing within private proceedings under the Children Act 1989.
The purpose of the DRA is to consider any additional evidence and/or reports obtained after the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA).
Before the DRA
The Court can make various directions at the FHDRA hearing which have to be complied with before the DRA. Sometimes this may include one or both parties undergoing a drug and/or alcohol test, parties providing letters from their respective GPs commenting upon their metal health, obtaining probation records, or obtaining advanced police checks on one or more parties. The Court may also direct that the Children and Family Court Advisor and Support Service (CAFCASS) – or in certain cases Social Services – prepares an additional report in the case.
Sometimes certain directions, like a drug test or police checks, must be complied with before another direction can be completed – for example the final report.
Attending the DRA
In the normal circumstances, you will be asked to attend the Court at least an hour before the hearing is due to take place, to engage in further discussions with CAFCASS and to attempt to resolve all or some issues with the other party. However, most of the hearings are nowadays conducted via telephone or video call. Nevertheless, it is still good practice to be available at least an hour before the hearing in case any urgent instructions need to be obtained before the hearing commences.
To determine whether your hearing happens in person or is conducted remotely, please check the Court Order made at the FHDRA hearing. If in doubt, please contact the Court directly to confirm how the hearing is conducted, in person or remotely.
What happens at a DRA?
The Judge (or Magistrates) will hear the parties’ submissions in relation to the ongoing disputes and determine what further steps, if any, are required to progress or conclude the matter.
If an additional report should have been filed before the hearing (usually a Section 7 Report) and the parties are in agreement with the recommendations made by CAFCASS (or Social Services) within such a report, the DRA can be treated as a Final Hearing and the matter can conclude. A Final Court Order will be drafted and sent to the parties within the next few weeks.
If, however, there are still outstanding issues to resolve, for example certain directions have not been complied with for any reason or the report highlighted additional concerns, the Court will attempt to narrow the issues and provide additional directions. This often happens when the police checks, probation records, or medical records did not arrive in time to be considered within the report, for example. The matter is likely to be adjourned (postponed) to another date and CAFCASS (or Social Services) may be ordered to file an addendum (additional) report.
If the matter cannot be concluded because one or both parties are not in agreement with the recommendations within the report, the Court is likely to list the matter for a Final Contested Hearing.
The Court will direct the parties, and any potential witnesses, to file their written evidence (witness statements). The author of the report may also be asked to file a witness statement in readiness for the Final Contested Hearing.
If a Section 37 Report, rather than a Section 7 Report, was directed at the FHDRA hearing, the Court will carefully consider the outcome of such a report in the light of any concerns raised by the author of the report (usually a Social Worker). If the Local Authority (Social Worker) have serious concerns regarding the parents, and these are evidenced within the report, the Court can pause the proceedings at this stage and change the Private Law Proceedings (issues regarding contact or where the children live) into Public Law Proceedings (potential Care Proceedings) to protect the children.
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