First directions appointment 2

The hearing

The Family Procedure Rules state that the aim of the first directions appointment is to define the issues and save costs: FPR rule 9.15(1).

You will be called into court by the usher.

The parties will be seated before the judge, although you should stand up when the judge either comes in or goes out.

If the judge is a District Judge or a Deputy District Judge they should be addressed as “Sir” (for a man) or “M’am” (pronounced “Marm”, for a woman).

It is a convention that the judge will refer to the parties as “The Husband” and “The Wife” even if they are actually divorced. 

The judge will usually call on the Applicant to speak to them first.

In a straightforward case the Applicant or their lawyer may tell the judge that the parties are agreed about what needs to happen and give the judge a handwritten list of suggested things to be ordered.

Often however, there are some disputes between the parties about e.g. whether a property needs to be valued, or whether there needs to be any expert evidence.  It is useful if the Applicant is able to tell the judge at the start how many matters there are for the judge to hear argument about.  Both sides then tell the judge why they say they are right about the points in dispute.  The judge gives a ruling. 

In a case where there is a lawyer, at the end of the hearing, the lawyer will often be asked by the judge to put the judge’s rulings in writing in the form of an order.

How to approach the hearing

Very often parties see the first appointment as an opportunity to try and get one over on the other side or to show they mean business.  This is understandable but at the same time a court will not be impressed with a party who runs foolish arguments.  A balance needs to be struck. 

Nothing is to be gained by making statements which upset the other side.  Judges find this tiresome.  As a secondary point just because the other side have said something unfair or upsetting, you should not be drawn down to that level.  You need to trust the judge to see through the other side’s posturing.  You also need to bear in mind that there is a very good chance that the judge at the first hearing will not be the judge who ultimately decides your case.

There is a real risk that sounding off may upset the other side and may prevent you reaching settlement in due course.  This may cost you time and money.

To sum up

  • Get your documents in order and in on time.
  • Arrive early.
  • Make sure you speak with the other side.  Keep an open mind but don’t give anything away.  If you are not comfortable answering something they ask you, say so.
  • Talk to the other side with a view to narrowing the number of issues between you.
  • After you have spoken to the other side, if there are disagreements decide what you are going to say to the judge on each point.
  • Be polite and respectful in court. 
  • The judge will usually be addressed as “Sir” or “Ma'm”, if they are a District Judge.  If you are before a High Court Judge you should say “my Lord” or "my Lady".
  • Wait for the judge to address you.