Fact finding hearings have become more common in Children Act proceedings where domestic abuse has been alleged against one of the parents.
The Court need to consider Practice Direction 12J which is the direction where an application is made for a child arrangements order whereby a query arises about where a child should live, or whether a child should spend time with the other parent.
These hearings are essentially ordered to establish whether any allegations made by either party are potentially true. They are important to the outcome of a case and require a great deal of thought and consideration by the Court to decide whether to make the findings sought.
The accusing party will need to prepare a schedule of allegations which usually contain the 6 “worse” allegations they are making along with statement in support, the accused will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations again with a statement in support. Both parties can file witness statements if necessary.
The court will use this evidence to make their decision about whether a child would be at risk if spending time with the other parent. It is important to note that if a party has been convicted in the criminal courts then it is unlikely that a fact finding hearing will be necessary.
If there is a current investigation live with the police regarding the domestic abuse then the Judge may decide it is necessary to include within the family proceedings Order that the police must endeavour to complete their investigations within a certain time frame in order for the family proceedings to progress.
Once the fact finding hearing has taken place the Court can then decide, having had the benefit of evidence within the fact finding hearing, whether the child or children involved would be at risk of harm should they have contact with the accused party.