I have to attend a First Appointment – What should I expect?

An application for financial remedies is a three-stage process and the First Appointment is the hearing that comes at the end of the first stage.

When the court issues an application for financial remedies it will set a timetable for dealing with the application and you will receive a document called a Notice of First Appointment which sets out dates for the filing and service or your Form E; filing and service of your Chronology, Statement of Issues and Questionnaire and a date and time for the First Appointment. Normally, a fairly short period of time (half an hour to an hour) is set aside by the court for the First Appointment.

First of all, do not expect the First Appointment to start at the time given in the Notice. There will be several cases listed for a First Appointment before the same judge at the same time. The cases are normally called into court in the order in which they are ready to go before the judge. The judge may have other, more urgent applications to deal with aswell. If you are employed the safest thing to do would be to take the whole day off work – you do not want to add to the stress of an already extremely stressful situation by worrying about whether you will get back to work on time.

Arrive at court at least 45 minutes before the appointed hearing time so that you have plenty of time to speak to your legal representative.

Some courts list all family cases by hearing number rather than the names of the parties. Make sure you take your case number to court with you. Make your way to the waiting area for your allocated courtroom and let the usher know that you have arrived.

You may be represented by someone whom you have not met before. Don’t worry about this. Legal representatives are used to finding people they have not met before. They will come and find you. They will have been fully briefed by the solicitor with conduct of your case and they will have copies of all relevant documents.

Before you go into court there may then be some time spent agreeing directions (arrangements for the preparation of the case) with the legal representative of the other party.

You will not be required to give evidence at this hearing.

When you go into court you sit behind your legal representative.

During the hearing the legal representative for the Applicant (the person who made the application) will give the judge a brief summary of the case and outline the directions that have been agreed and the areas of dispute.

The judge will then make a directions order which will usually cover the following:-

  • Replies to Questionnaires – if there is a dispute as to whether certain questions should be answered and the documents to be produced, the judge will rule on these issues.
  • The need for valuation reports from estate agents, surveyors, accountants, actuaries and/or other relevant experts. The judge will direct how the identity of the expert should be determined; the preparation of the letter of instruction and who should pay for the report.
  • The production of evidence by each party regarding their mortgage raising capacity.
  • The production of property particulars by each party for properties they say are suitable for them and for the other party.
  • The production of updating disclosure.
  • The exchange of Without Prejudice offers.
  • Setting the case down for a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing – the hearing which comes at the end of the second stage of the process.

You may need to wait around at the end of the hearing for the order to be perfected by the legal representatives.

Although parties and their legal representatives would normally attend court for the First Appointment, in the current Covid19 lockdown, most First Appointments are either being dealt with on the papers or by remote telephone or video hearings. You probably won’ find out how the court intends to deal with your case until a few days before the hearing.

Even before the pandemic hit, the Central Family Court was running a pilot scheme to promote First Appointments being dealt with on the papers, without the need of a court attendance.

If you have any queries about a forthcoming First Appointment, please contact our Head of Family Law, Joanna Toloczko on 020 3861 5155 or at jtoloczko@meaby.co.uk