An application seeking child custody orders, or seeking orders about parenting arrangements, can generally be concluded in one of two ways:
The Court will list a matter for a Final Hearing once both parties have completed the pre-trial procedures, and all interim applications have been dealt with.
Before you go to a Final Hearing, you should seek expert legal advice on the Final Hearing process, and the chances of success for your case.
There are significant implications of a Final Hearing. Most importantly, the orders the court makes at the Hearing will remain in place until the children are 18. The Court will only make further orders if you can show that there has been a significant and substantial change in your circumstances, or that of the other party.
It is critical that you seek sound legal advice before the Final Hearing so that you can present your best and strongest case.
If you don’t receive the orders you wanted at the Final Hearing, in some circumstances the court can make you pay some, or even all, of the legal costs of the other party (or parties) to the dispute. The parties to a Final Hearing are generally the children’s parents (the Applicant and the Respondent). It can also include other people involved in the children’s lives such as grandparents or other carers. The Court can also appoint an independent children’s lawyer in the matter and if so, that person becomes a party to the dispute as well.
Following a Final Hearing, in almost all cases the Court will reserve its decision until a later date. In most circumstances, the interim orders that were on foot at the time of the Final Hearing will remain in force. It can take several months, possibly even longer, before the Court hands down its Judgement. At that time, the Court will make Orders on a final basis and will provide a justification for those Orders, known as a Judgement.
There is no strict timeframe for Family Court hearings, and it is important to remember that each case is different. A large proportion of matters are finalised within 12 months, however some may take years, depending on their complexity. Interim orders are designed to be temporary and can be determined within a few weeks, if deemed to urgent or within 2-3 months.
The two primary considerations are the benefit to the child of having a meaningful relationship with both parents and the need to protect the child from harm.
If both parents can come to a mutual agreement, a consent orders or a parenting plan can be drafted. Whilst the agreement does not need to be formalised by the courts, we recommend you seek expert advice from our family lawyers who can assist you to protect your child’s best interests.
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