FHDRA – First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment – is usually the first hearing within proceedings under the Children Act 1989.
The purpose of the FHDRA is to assess the issues between the parties at an early stage, and to determine how best to progress the case.
When a party (the Applicant) commences Court proceedings in relation to any child, the Court will issue the case (i.e. open the case and assign a case reference number) and list the matter for a FHDRA hearing – to take place usually within 6 to 8 weeks.
Checks before the FHDRA
Before the first hearing takes place, the Children and Family Court Advisor and Support Service (CAFCASS) will undertake safeguarding checks to outline any potential or actual risk of harm to the children. They will conduct telephone interviews with the parties and perform checks with the police and local authorities. After undertaking all the necessary enquiries, a CAFCASS officer will prepare a Safeguarding Letter and a copy of this will be sent to the Court and usually to the parties.
It is very important to work openly and honestly with CAFCASS during the initial interview. It may also be advisable to write down all the concerns and details you wish to provide to CAFCASS before the interview takes place. You may be nervous during the interview and the notes may assist you and prevent you from forgetting anything.
Attending the FHDRA
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 a 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 initial Court Order and/or Notice of Proceedings. These should have been sent to you when you were notified about the case being issued.
What happens at a FHDRA?
The Judge (or Magistrates) will hear the parties‚ A submission in relation to the ongoing disputes and determine what further steps are required to progress the matter.
The Safeguarding Letter and the recommendations within the letter provided by CAFCASS will also be considered at this hearing. If the Safeguarding Letter is not available at the time of the hearing, the case may be adjourned to another day to allow CAFCASS to complete their enquiries and finalise the letter.
Sometimes the Safeguarding Letter is not shared with the parties prior to the hearing and only sent to the Court. This usually happens if CAFCASS were unable to speak to one of the parties or if disclosure of the Safeguarding Letter prior to the hearing may potentially put one party, or the children, at risk of harm.
After the FHDRA
Sometimes cases can conclude at FHDRA if there are no safeguarding concerns regarding any party and if the parties reach an agreement. However, more often, further steps need to be taken before the matter progresses. The Court may order that an additional, more detailed report is required to outline the circumstances in the case and ascertain the wishes and feelings of the children. This is called a Section 7 Report. If CAFCASS and the Court have substantial concerns regarding one or both parents, a Section 37 Report can be ordered. Either CAFCASS or Social Services will consider within the report whether the Local Authority should be taking a more serious approach to the case and whether Care Proceedings should be issued.
Depending on the case, the Judge may order a drug or alcohol test or direct the parties to provide letters from their respective GPs commenting upon their mental health.
If the matter does not conclude at the FHDRA, it will proceed to a Dispute Resolution Appointment.
If you wish to read this definition in Polish, please click here.