An emergency hearing is one heard on the same day as an application is made. It is also known as an ´abridged hearing´.
You would apply for an emergency hearing in an emergency situation. This might include if there is an imminent risk of the children being removed from the court´s jurisdiction without your consent (e.g. removal abroad) or if the children are to be imminently moved some distance from the other parent without prior warning, which will disrupt existing contact/living arrangements and involve a move from school and disruption to the child´s life which you believe will be harmful (see also our guide on Applying for a Prohibitive Steps Order). Other circumstances would include if the children were at risk of significant harm (see also our guide on Applying for an Applying for an Emergency Protection Orders). It may be that you believe your child needs emergency medical treatment, in which case you would be applying for a Specific Issue Order (see also our guide on Applying for a Specific Issue Order).
It may be that your ex-partner has disappeared with the children (see also our guide on Applying for a Seek and Find Order). In such circumstances, we also recommend you read our guide on Parental Child Abduction.
It may simply be that you have a holiday planned and your ex-partner refuses contact at the last moment. On this last example, we would urge some judgment on whether an emergency application is warranted. If you are due to take the children away, this has been planned for some time and your ex was aware, and you have incurred costs for travel and accommodation, your reasons for making an emergency application are more likely to be accepted. If the children were simply due to come over and stay with you, it is unlikely that the court will agree to hear the case that day (see also our guide on Child Arrangements Orders, Warning Notices and Enforcement).
Sadly, the court will not view matters as an emergency if contact otherwise ceases, or if parents simply wish to resolve matters quickly following separation. In such circumstances, paperwork should be filed with the court in the way set out in our other guides and the court will notify you of a date for a directions hearing. In such circumstances, the court will normally expect you to attempt mediation (see also our guide on Mediation).
Be sure on what orders you want the court to make and complete the necessary paperwork (refer to the relevant guide on our Applying to Court page for help). When completing the application form, ensure that you explain you want an ´Abridged Hearing´, and briefly set out the reasons why. If you have time, include a position statement giving the judge a little more background information and setting out your concerns and the order(s) that you want the court to make. Keep this fairly brief, and ideally, no more than 3-4 pages (also see our packages in our Shop templates and guides on writing a position statement).
Get to the court early. Ideally, be there for 9am when the court opens, and take the forms to the court´s administration department. Make sure that you also tell the court staff that you need an abridged hearing and ask that the application form (and your position statement if you have written one) is placed before the judge immediately.
If it is a weekend or bank holiday, your local family court will be closed. If the children are at risk of significant harm, call the police, and you should consider this as an option if any delay caused by applying to the court may place the children at greater risk. The police, if they find that the children are at risk of harm, can take the children into protective custody. This may not mean that the children come to stay with you, as social services will then get involved. That said, the children´s safety must come first.
If your ex has disappeared with the children, and you do not believe them to be at risk of harm, wait until the court opens, and apply for a seek and find order and any other orders that you want the judge to make (e.g. orders for contact or residence).
In the event that the children are at risk of imminent removal abroad without your consent, e.g. before you could otherwise apply to the court and leave the court sufficient time to act, we recommend you telephone The Principle Registry of the Family Division on 0207 947 6000 and ask to speak to the duty judge, explaining your situation. Again, be clear as to why you are making an emergency application and on what you want the court to do e.g. make a prohibitive steps order preventing the children from being removed from the country, asking that the children´s passports be seized, and that an ´all ports bulletin´ be made.
In an emergency situation, a judge has the power to make an immediate order. This is likely to be a temporary or ´interim´ order, since the court will wish to allow the other side (normally the other parent depending on the circumstances) to defend themselves against any allegations you made which led to the order being made on an emergency basis. In such circumstances it is likely that a further hearing date will be set. Again, normally 14 days´ notice is required prior to a hearing to serve paperwork on the other parties, although the judge can ´abridge´ this time period and set a hearing date sooner if the circumstances make this appropriate.
The court may decide the matter is not urgent, and require you to arrange mediation prior to applying to court. Depending on the circumstances, the court may order that the police and/or social services check on the children prior to making any order.
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Michael Robinson © 2014
Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales
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