“I have received a letter from the Family Court telling me that I have an upcoming Readiness Hearing.”
It is common to have a Court hearing where the Judicial Officer tells the parties that the next step is to wait to receive notification of a Readiness Hearing.
Because of the backlog and under-resourced nature of the Family Court, often it takes a long time to receive notification from the Family Court that a Readiness Hearing has been allocated. It is standard to wait a year, and at the most difficult of times, it can take up to two years. In this time often matters die down, sometimes they resolve, and sometimes the litigation and negotiations continue.
It can often, therefore, come as a surprise when you receive a letter from the Court telling you that your Readiness Hearing is coming.
So what does it mean when you get this letter, and what should you do?
What is a Readiness Hearing?
The Readiness Hearing itself is a procedural hearing run by a Magistrate or a Registrar. The purpose of a Readiness Hearing is to ensure that your matter is ready for trial and should be allowed to proceed to trial. The Court does not like matters to proceed towards trial unless they have been properly prepared, to ensure that limited Court resources are not wasted.
There are several documents that need to be prepared in accordance with certain time frames, prior to the Readiness Hearing. This includes trial affidavits and various other documents.
Usually, when you receive your letter, it means you have about two months to prepare your trial material. It is at this point that if you haven’t received legal advice, you should immediately see a qualified and reputable family lawyer. While two months may seem like a long time, it is not at all, when considering the amount of work that is required for a trial.
It is critical at this point to get legal advice and help to draft your documents because if your matter proceeds to trial, these documents will be the major deciding factor in the outcome. Your Judicial Officer will read the documents before the trial and will often form a preliminary opinion of an appropriate outcome based on the documents. This is the most important time to spend money on a lawyer as it will make the biggest difference.
Another good reason to see a lawyer at this point is that they will tell you if your case is within the range of likely outcomes, or if it is not. If you proceed to trial and run a case which is unsuccessful, you run the risk of having to pay the other party’s legal costs and is not a risk that you should take.
What happens at the Readiness Hearing?
At the Readiness Hearing itself, the Magistrate or Registrar will expect to be informed about:-
- the main issues of fact or law relevant to your case.
- whether you propose amending your application or response.
- whether you have complied with all previous orders, including in relation to the filing of your documents for trial.
- how many witnesses will be needed at trial, and which of the other party’s witnesses you intend to cross-examine.
- the likely length of the trial.
- whether interpreters are required for the trial.
- whether telephone or video link facilities will be required.
- whether a bring-up order is required for a witness who is in prison.
These questions are legal and complex.
Once you complete the Readiness Hearing and the Judicial Officer is satisfied that your case should proceed, you join a pool of parties waiting for allocation of a trial, known as the Callover.
What if I don’t prepare my documents in time?
If you do not prepare your documents before the Readiness Hearing, there can be several consequences. These include potential cost orders against you, delay including having to re-join the queue for another Readiness Hearing (another year or so) or the other party may be entitled to proceed undefended in the trial as if you are no longer a party. If neither party complies, your case can be dismissed. It is not a position that you want to be in.
Am I going to trial?
You should be aware that the allocation of a Readiness Hearing does not mean that you must go to trial. Often parties see a lawyer and re-enter negotiations, and with the benefit of legal advice, find that their matter can settle without the necessity for a trial. You should take this step long before the Readiness Hearing, to alleviate any pressure and cost of preparing documents if that is not necessary. Only 1% of matters proceed to trial so it is best to reach a resolution sooner and before you incur legal costs which often cannot be recouped.
If you need advice please contact our experienced family law team to assist you.