Prepare for your first time in family court

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If you are going to a family court hearing for the first time, here are some tips to help you on the day.

Your family hearing may be about your divorce, your children or your divorce finances.

Check your court letter carefully

The court letter will tell you what the hearing is for, when and where the hearing will take place and how long the hearing will take.

For example, your hearing may be a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) – relating to your child(ren), or it may be a First Directions Appointment – relating to your finances.

The letter will also give you special instructions, for example, telling you to arrive an hour before the hearing time, which documents to send to the court and to the other side, or forms you may need to fill in and send to the court and the other side before the hearing.

If you can not attend court at the specified time and date, contact the court as soon as possible to ask for an adjournment.

Check which court to go to

This may seem obvious, but check which court and which building you are going to. 

In some towns the family court may be separate and family hearings always held there.  But sometimes family hearings are held within any of the following: the county court building, the magistrates court building or the family court building. 

If you are unsure, arrive in good time on the day so that you can go to each building to check where your hearing will be.

Prepare for your hearing

At the very least, read through all of your documents and all of the documents you have received from the other side. 

Think of any questions you would like to ask and think of answers to any questions the other side may ask you.

Be clear in your mind about what you would like to achieve by the end of the hearing and work towards that goal.

Take copies of documents with you

If neither you nor the other side have legal representation, before you go to court make sure you have three copies of all the documents you have already submitted to the court.

Paperwork can go missing, which means the judge may not have received all the documents that you have posted or hand delivered to the court.

The other two copies will be for you and for the other side.

Be ready for airport-style security checks

When you arrive at the court, security staff will look inside your bags and scan you using a metal detector, or ask you to walk through a metal-detector doorway. 

If you have any drinks with you – whether in a drinking cup or a sealed bottle, security staff may ask you to take a sip of the drinks before allowing you to take them in with you.

You will be checked in this way every time you enter the court.

Check the court listings

Your case will be listed, along with others inside the court, on the court boards.

Check which courtroom your hearing will take place in.  Courtrooms are numbered. 

If your case relates to a child, the case will be listed on the boards by case number.  If it is to do with the divorce or divorce finances, it will be listed using your surnames, for example Jones v Jones

Go to the waiting area outside your courtroom and check in with the usher there.  Then wait to be called for your hearing. 

Be ready to wait

Unless your case is booked for a full day’s hearing, you will find that one or two other hearings are listed at the same time as yours.

To make the most of judicial time, courtrooms tend to be double or triple booked.  Because of this, it is very likely that you will have to wait.

This means your hearing will probably start later than the time listed and will end later, so factor this in when making travel arrangements such as parking.

Sometimes hearings scheduled for later in the day can not be heard and have to be re-listed.

Copyright © Going to Court Alone – Debbie Thomas

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