Our trainee solicitor, Emily Borghese, has previously addressed the purpose of a fact finding hearing in her blog, “Fact finding hearing: Dubai’s princesses”. The appropriateness of fact finding hearings in private children proceedings was recently considered by the court in the case of K v K  EWCA Civ 468. Our paralegal, Molly Nicholls, analyses the recent judgment below.
Following a disagreement between the parents, the father applied to the court. He made allegations of parental alienation and sought to formalise the contact arrangement. The initial allegations presented by the parties were described as “relatively minor”. At the first hearing, further, more serious allegations were raised by the mother. The Judge directed a two-day fact finding hearing to consider seven allegations. This decision followed Cafcass recommending that the court consider a fact-finding hearing.
A fact finding hearing will often result in a delay in proceedings. It is imperative for Judges to consider whether the same is truly necessary. K v K has confirmed that the court needs to take time to identify the specific welfare issues in order to understand the nature of the allegations. The court then needs to consider whether the facts alleged are relevant to the issues at hand. It is clear from the judgment of K v K that a fact finding hearing should only be directed if the allegations are directly relevant to what the court is being asked to decide in relation to the children’s welfare.
The Court of Appeal held that the purpose of a fact-finding hearing is not for parties to air their grievances or to have their perception validated by the court. The court held that if such a hearing was to take place, it is only for the purposes of the child’s welfare or protecting a child from abuse.
A fact finding hearing can be acrimonious and further breakdown relations between parents. The judgment did deal with when it is appropriate for the court to become involved with issues arising between parents in private children proceedings. It was held that Judges may consider issues between the parents if the issue is relating to their time together and if it is likely to be necessary for and proportionate to, the resolution of a dispute relating to the protection or welfare of a child.
As Judges are now required to consider the appropriateness of a fact finding hearing in greater detail, the number of fact finding hearings may decrease.
Our fee earners are highly experienced in dealing with all aspects of private children proceedings. Please do contact us in order to arrange an initial consultation with one of our experienced and specialist solicitors who can assist you with your matter.