Hearings, First Appointment…

If you apply to the Court to progress a financial settlement there will be Hearings, the first of which being the aptly named ‘First Appointment’.
The purpose of the First Appointment, in simple form, is for a Judge to decide what needs doing so that all information needed to decide the case will be available for negotiations at the next Hearing. For example, if the parties cannot agree a property value the Judge may order a valuation.
There is more to say but my focus is not on the purpose of the First Appointment. There is plenty of information on the Internet already. My focus is on concerns you may have.
Much of what happens may go over your head at the First Appointment. This is not a patronising comment as I recall attending this Hearing as a note taking trainee many years ago and finding the Hearing difficult to follow.
The pace can be fast with the Judge and legal representatives conversing in their own language much of the time which can make it difficult to follow. There is also the stress that you might be feeling which is not conducive to a clear head.
Clients often tell me they slept badly the night before the Hearing. Why? I find this is not often about their case but other matters such as what may be said to the Judge about them and whether they may have to sayanything. There can be worries about seeing an ex-partner whom they may not have seen for a while. There may be the simple fear of the unknown. Court is often understood as a place where criminals are tried and TV drama doesn’t help.
Some worry about what to wear. The professionals involved invariably wear suits. My advice is that you wear something you feel comfortable in. I should perhaps add casual smart as I recall the client who turned up at Court in a string vest. The Judge made no comment but this was possibly a step too far in the comfortable department !
The Hearing should be without mud-slinging. The talking is done by the Judge and legal representatives.  The Judge is rarely, if ever, interested in hearing about ‘bad’ behaviour if it is not relevant to the case which it mostly isn’t. Nevertheless, not all legal representatives can resist a snipe, perhaps to give their client the perception that their representative has somehow ‘won’. When this happens the other legal representative is faced with the difficult choice of responding in kind or remaining professional and risking their client perceiving some sort of ‘weakness’ or ‘losing’.
Seeing an ex- partner can be difficult. You usually sit out of sight of each other before and after the Hearing. During the Hearing you may or may not sit in a position where eye contact is possible. Where eye contact is possible it is not unknown for the Judge to tell one party to stop eyeballing the other across the room, so staring is not a good idea.
The fear of the unknown may cause worry although after the Hearing parties often wonder what they had been so worried about. For some the Hearing feels an anti-climax. There is no ‘day in Court’ at the First Appointment. The issues that may be important to you and the hurtful behaviour by your ex-partner may not have been mentioned at all.
For all the worry it may cause, the First Appointment arguably serves a useful purpose in addition to its real purpose. It can get some worries out of the way which is important as you will need a clear head for the next Hearing (the Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing).