If you end up in the Family Court following the breakdown of your relationship you may hear the term ‘Fact-Finding’ being used regarding where your children should live or how their time should be split. This will usually occur where there are allegations of domestic abuse; either because your ex-partner was abusive towards you/your children or you are accused of being abusive.
What is a Fact-Finding hearing?
A Fact-Finding hearing is similar to trial where the Court decides whether the alleged abuse happened or not. At the Fact-Finding hearing the Court will consider all the evidence and make a decision on the balance of probabilities, which means that the Court decides whether it is more likely than not that the allegations happened.
The Court can deal with Fact-Finding at the final hearing i.e. at the same time as it decides the arrangements for the children or it may have a separate Fact-Finding hearing.
How and when does the Court decide if a Fact-Finding hearing is needed?
The Court will usually make this decision at the first hearing. However, it must keep this decision under review and may decide at any hearing that Fact-Finding is necessary. One of the factors the Court will consider when making this decision is whether the allegations are relevant to the arrangements for the children e.g. if abuse occurred it may impact on whether a parents’ contact with a child should be supervised or include overnight stays.
What evidence will be used at the Fact-Finding hearing?
This varies widely depending on the allegations. It is usually necessary to have witness statements from all the parties to proceedings. The parents may also want to rely on the evidence of other people e.g. if they witnessed any of the incidents, were told about them afterwards, or if they can give an alibi.
Parties may also rely on copies of text-messages, emails, photos or any other material which supports their case.
If reports of abuse have been made to the police, doctors, local authorities or other organisations, in some circumstances you can obtain the records. You may require a Court Order to obtain these records so you should raise it with your representative and ask the Court about it at the earliest possible point.
Do I have to give evidence in the hearing?
If you have made allegations of abuse or are accused of abuse you will usually be expected to give evidence in Court. This means that you will take an oath or affirmation swearing to tell the truth and you can be asked questions by the other parent’s legal representative.
Where one or both of the parents are unrepresented, the Court may prevent the parent accused of abuse from asking the other parent questions directly. The Court can also be asked to put up screen so that the parents cannot see each other during the hearing.
If you have a Fact-Finding hearing coming up or you think you may need one in your case our specialist family barristers will be able to advise and represent you.
If you would like to contact one of our team, please read our simple step-by-step guide, then get in touch with our clerks who will discuss your needs and put you in touch with the barrister best suited to your case.