There are three key stages in the Children Act:
A first hearing and dispute resolution appointment (FHDRA) is the starting stage in proceedings. Here a judge will decide what needs to be done before the case can be decided. This can include ordering an expert assessment or drug and alcohol testing. Where appropriate, parents can negotiate at this stage and it may be the only hearing you attend.
A Dispute Resolution Appointment generally takes place when all expert reports have been provided and all the evidence has been obtained.
At a DRA, a judge will help the parties to try to agree a settlement between themselves. The judge will probably give a non-binding indication about what they think should happen in the case and then allow you to negotiate around this.
Where parties cannot otherwise agree, a final hearing will be necessary. At this, the court will hear evidence from the parties, any relevant experts and, if appropriate, the children. The judge will then make a decision and order the contact/residence which they think is best.
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