What happens before a first hearing?

This page provides information on the procedure up until a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment for a contested section 8* application in the Family Court.  
* Application under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 for a ‘child arrangements’, ‘prohibited steps’ or ‘specific issue’ order

What happens after the applicant sends the application to Court? 

Once the applicant makes an application to court using the relevant application form (form C100), the court will issue the application with a case number and the application will be considered by a nominated Legal Adviser and/or nominated District Judge (‘the Gatekeeper(s)’).

The Gatekeeper(s) will allocate the case to an appropriate level of judge within the family court and the case will be listed for a hearing. This will usually be a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment.

Depending on the issues that the court needs to consider in the case, the case will either be listed before a District Judge (if the issues are more complex) or before Magistrates. Magistrates are ‘lay’ people and they receive support from Legal Advisers who advise them on the law and procedure. If a case begins before the Magistrates and a Legal Adviser but the issues become more complex as the case progresses, the case can be transferred to a District Judge. Similarly, if the more complex issues are resolved, the case can be transferred from a District Judge to the Magistrates and Legal Adviser.

What happens once the case has been allocated to the relevant court and listed for a hearing?

The court office must send the following court documents to the applicant:

  • Sealed copy of the C100: The applicant’s application for a section 8 order
  • Sealed copy of the C1A (If one was completed by the applicant): Supplementary form where the applicant can expand on welfare and safeguarding concerns
  • Allocation and Gatekeeping Order: This order contains the directions that were made by the court at allocation and gatekeeping
  • C6: Notice of proceedings confirming the date and time of the hearing

Unless the applicant requests to do so, or the court directs the applicant to do so, the court will serve the respondent(s) with a C7, a blank C1A and the above mentioned court documents.

A C7 is an Acknowledgement of Service that the respondent(s) is required to complete to confirm to the court that they have received the applicant’s application. There are instructions on completing the form on the first page of the C7. The C7 will ask the respondent to confirm whether they wish to oppose the application, whether they intend to apply for an order and whether the child(ren) have suffered or could be at risk of suffering violence or harm.

The respondent(s), once in receipt of court documents, will need to complete the C7 and return this to the court within 14 days of the date when they were given the Notice of Proceedings, or of the postmark on the envelope if the Notice of Proceedings was posted to them. If the respondent(s) has any welfare concerns they can complete the blank C1A and return this alongside the C7.

Can I submit a witness statement or other evidence prior to the first hearing?

No document other than those mentioned above can be can be sent to the court. If you wish to submit a witness statement or other evidence, you will need to seek permission from the court.

Generally it is the case that the court require that a C2 form be submitted to formally request permission to file evidence. The decision to grant permission will be solely at the discretion of the court.

Where the court are dealing with a contested application, at some stage in the proceedings, the court will give directions to the parties to prepare and submit a witness statement or other evidence. The court will give directions for the date and time of when this must be submitted by and the directions.

There are certain circumstances when a party may prepare a witness statement without the court’s permission, for example, if the applicant is making an urgent application and they need to set out the evidence for their application in a witness statement.

The role of CAFCASS

A copy of any section 8 application will also be sent to CAFCASS and they will usually do the following prior to the first hearing:

  • Safeguarding checks: These are checks that CAFCASS will carry out with the police and the local authority to find out whether there are any known safety or welfare risks to the child(ren) subject to the application.
  • Telephone interview: CAFCASS will usually call the parties separately to find out if they have any concerns about the safety and welfare of the child(ren). Telephone interviews will usually take place close to the hearing date.
  • Safeguarding letter: At least three days before the hearing CAFCASS will provide the court and the parties with a short report on the outcomes of the safeguarding checks and any child welfare issues raised during the telephone interviews.

If it has not been possible for CAFCASS to have completed the telephone interview with applicant or the respondent(s), on the day of the hearing the Family Court Adviser (FCA) from CAFCASS will ensure any outstanding safeguarding issues are discussed, assessed and shared with the court.

Contact dispute before the first hearing 

Unfortunately, you cannot enforce contact where no court order exists in the interim, even if you believe that the respondent(s) is being unreasonable with your children’s contact arrangements.

Once your matter has been listed for a first hearing, at the first hearing you can request that an interim court order is made. An interim court order can contain interim child arrangements to last until the date of the next hearing.

Urgent and without notice applications

Urgent applications

Without notice applications

An ‘urgent’ application is an application made to the court requesting that the matter is dealt with without delay.

An urgent application may be made in the following circumstances:

  1. There is a risk to the life, liberty, or the physical safety of the prospective applicant or his or her family, or his or her home;
  2. There is a significant risk that proceedings relating to the dispute will be brought in another state in which a valid claim to jurisdiction may exist, such that a court in that other State would be seized of the dispute before a court in England and Wales.
  3. Any delay would cause:
  • A risk of harm to the child;
  • A risk of unlawful removal of a child from the United Kingdom or a risk of unlawful retention of a child who is currently outside England and Wales;
  • A significant risk of a miscarriage of justice;
  • Unreasonable hardship to the prospective applicant;
  • Irretrievable problems in dealing with the dispute (including the irretrievable loss of significant evidence).

    A ‘without notice’ application is an application made to the court requesting the matter is heard by the court without the respondent(s) knowing about it.

    A without notice application may be made in the following circumstances:

    1. Giving notice would enable the respondent(s) to take steps which would defeat the purpose of the application being made;
    2. Giving notice would place the applicant and/ or the child(ren) at risk of harm;
    3. The matter is so urgent that there is no time for the applicant to give notice to the respondent(s)

    How does an urgent or without notice application affect the procedure?

    Due to the very nature of an urgent hearing, the court may not have time to serve the respondent(s) with the above mentioned court paperwork. The applicant may therefore by required to notify the respondent(s) informally by writing to them, phoning them, texting them or e-mailing them.

    Please note that this will not apply if the hearing is to be held without notice. During a without notice hearing, the judge will hear the applicant’s reasons for making the application without informing the respondent(s).

    Following an urgent or without notice hearing, unless all issues have been determined or the application has been dismissed without any further directions given, the court may make gatekeeping decisions, including allocation and venue of a future hearing.

    Further, CAFCASS will usually not have time to carry out the relevant safeguarding checks and call the parties prior to the urgent hearing. Where it is not possible for CAFCASS to carry out safeguarding checks and call the parties prior to the hearing, the court will make directions for CAFCASS to do this by a later date.