I NEED HELP!
If you or your family are involved in the family justice system, or you feel you may need some advice about your children, divorce or a family breakup, there are lots of people who can help.
If you are trying to make arrangements with the other parent of your children about their care and how the children spend time with each of you, you are encouraged to try to come to an agreement outside of court. Cafcass have produced a parenting plan which you may find helpful to assist you both. You can download a copy here.
Click the links below for more information. If you can’t find the answer you are looking for, check out our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section.
WHAT IS THE FAMILY COURT?
The Family Court is a place where Judges and Magistrates (trained volunteers who act as judges) decide disputes about family law issues. These issues may involve children – for example, which parent a child should live with; or money – for example, how much money one former spouse should pay to the other when they divorce; or many other issues, some of which you will be able to read about in this section.
It can be very daunting if you have a case which is in the Family Court. Many people find the idea of having their personal issues decided by somebody else upsetting. If at all possible, it is better to resolve your dispute without going to court at all. This may be informally, with your former partner, family and friends, or formally, by attending mediation or another form of dispute resolution. Again, you can read more about these options and find additional useful information on this page.
If your case does go the the Family Court, however, there is no need to worry. There are many people and organisations who can provide advice and assistance, and you may also be able to access emotional support for yourself and your children if you need it. The Family Court is also normally completely private, so members of the public and other people not involved in your case won’t be sitting in court listening to what happens. Although the Family Court operates an “adversarial” system – so each “side” is able to present their arguments to the Judge and to cross-examine and challenge the evidence of the other side – it is very different from the courts which you may have seen portrayed on television. The lawyers and judges won’t be wearing wigs and gowns, there will be no jury, and more often than not all parties sit down together in a small room.
Judges and Magistrates like to help people to resolve their differences as amicably as possible, so that everybody can achieve an outcome which they are comfortable with. Most importantly, everyone in the Family Court tries to reach a resolution which is in the best interests of the children, wherever children are involved. You can read more about disputes involving children on this page.
If you have a lawyer working on your case, make sure that you give them as much information as possible and ask them any questions which may be worrying you before you go to court. If you do not have a lawyer and are going to court on your own, do not worry. Many – if not most – people now represent themselves at the Family Court, so court staff, Judges, Magistrates and other lawyers are all very used to assisting people who go to court on their own. A good way to be prepared is to read more information on this website and to do additional research by following some of our links. You are also able to take someone with you to court to act as an informal adviser (or “Mckenzie friend”) if you wish. Read more in the I AM REPRESENTING MYSELF section, below. There is nothing to stop you attending your local Family Court in advance of your own hearing to familiarise yourself with the layout and to get a general idea of how things work; this may help to put your mind at rest.
MEDIATION & DISPUTE RESOLUTION
There are ways of resolving your family dispute without having to go to court. Mediation is the most common form of dispute resolution.
Mediators are impartial and can help you and the person with whom you have a disagreement or conflict to work together to resolve your problem. People very often use mediators to help them with their divorce or separation and to help them make suitable arrangements for the care of their children.
Mediation is very often a much quicker process than taking your case to court, and can be very cost-effective. You may find mediation less stressful than going to court because you try to work together to achieve an outcome which you are both happy with.
You might find this leaflet helpful.
If you are considering making an application to court, you are likely to be required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) first. This is an initial meeting with an accredited mediator which will explore whether this is a case suitable to be resolved by mediation, instead of going to court. The other party will also be encouraged to attend the meeting, in the hope that arrangements can be made to resolve the case amicably.
If you are thinking of making almost any application for a court order about a child, or an application in respect of finances after a divorce, you will be required to attend a MIAM, unless the application is an emergency or it is to enforce an order which already exists.
If you do not attend the MIAM, the court may refuse your application or the case may be adjourned for you and the other party to attend.
There are certain exceptions to the requirement to attend a MIAM, which can be found here.
Full details can be found in the MIAM Practice Direction.
The Family Mediation Council is dedicated to promoting best practice in family mediation. Their website will help you to find a local mediator:
The Family Mediation Council
There are a number of different member organisations within the FMC. You can visit their websites here:
The College of Mediators
The Family Mediators Association
National Family Mediation
The Law Society
You may also find the following links helpful:
Family Mediation Helpline
You may be eligible for Legal Aid for mediation. Click here to find out more:
Find out here
Watch the Understanding Family Mediation by Ministry of Justice UK.
DISPUTES ABOUT CHILDREN
If you are separated from the other parent of your child or children, you will need to consider what arrangements should be made for the care of the children and how the children spend time with each of you. It is always best if you can come to an agreement between you. If you are in dispute about the arrangements, the children can often be affected, either because they are not seeing one of their parents or because they are aware that their parents are arguing and are upset.
Cafcass have produced a Parenting Plan which you may wish to use as a guide to consider all the different factors to take into account.
You may also find this Guide for Separated Parents useful.
If you are finding it difficult to agree the arrangements, it may be a good idea to try mediation. Further information can be found in the MEDIATION section, above.
If you find that you cannot agree the arrangements for your children, you may decide to apply to the Family Court. The Family Court has the ability to make orders about children which regulate where they live, how they spend time with their parents and other family members, and to decide particular issues such as which school they should attend, among many other things. The law is governed by the Children Act 1989.
The most common type of order applied for is a Child Arrangements Order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. This sets out where the children live and how they spend time with each of their parents. Grandparents and other family members can also apply for a Child Arrangements Order, but they will usually need the court’s permission to make an application. A Child Arrangements Order was until very recently referred to as “residence” and “contact”, so you may still be thinking of the order in those terms.
When the Family Court is deciding what orders to make in relation to the children, it will always have the welfare of the children as its top priority. You may hear people referring to the “welfare checklist”. This is a list of factors which are set out in section 1 of the Children Act 1989 which the court always thinks about when making arrangements for children:
(1) When a court determines any question with respect to—
(a) the upbringing of a child; or
(b) the administration of a child’s property or the application of any income arising from it,
the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.
(2) In any proceedings in which any question with respect to the upbringing of a child arises, the court shall have regard to the general principle that any delay in determining the question is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child.
(3) In the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4), a court shall have regard in particular to—
(a) the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
(b) his physical, emotional and educational needs;
(c) the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
(d) his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
(e) any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
(f) how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
(g) the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.
(4) The circumstances are that—
(a) the court is considering whether to make, vary or discharge a section 8 order, and the making, variation or discharge of the order is opposed by any party to the proceedings; or
(b) the court is considering whether to make, vary or discharge [F1a special guardianship order or] an order under Part IV.
(5) Where a court is considering whether or not to make one or more orders under this Act with respect to a child, it shall not make the order or any of the orders unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all.
A very helpful guidance form (CB1) can be downloaded here.
If you are thinking about applying to the court, you will normally be required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting first. Further information can be found in the MEDIATION section.
If an application is made to the Family Court in relation to your child, you are likely to be contacted by Cafcass. Further information can be found on the Cafcass website and in the CAFCASS section, below.
The Family Court will follow a procedure in relation to family disputes about children. These cases are referred to as “Private Law” cases and are different to “Public Law” cases, which involve different procedures and applications by Local Authorities to safeguard children.
The procedure to be followed in Private Law cases is called the Child Arrangements Programme. A flowchart of the relevant parts of the procedure can be downloaded here and a full version of the programme (often referred to as the “CAP”) can be downloaded here.
If your case involves domestic violence (see the ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS section, above), the Family Court will need to decide how to address that issue to ensure that the children’s best interests are met. You may find it helpful to read the relevant procedural guidelines which the court will take into account, which can be downloaded here.
If you already have a Child Arrangements Order in respect of your children, which is not being complied with by the other party, you may wish to consider applying to enforce the order. The Family Court has certain powers to penalise a parent who is not abiding by the terms of the order, or can alter the terms of an earlier order if necessary.
You may find some of the following links useful:
SORTING OUT SEPARATION
There are other organisations which can provide you with advice. You can find further information elsewhere on this page. Don’t forget that you can also ask a lawyer for help if you have a case in court.
Many cases which appear in the Family Court involve people who are, or have been, in relationships that have felt abusive in some way, whether or not family members still live together. Often, these relationships may involve physical violence, but that is not always the case.
The Court defines ‘domestic violence’ like this:
Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:
Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. This definition includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.
The relationship need not be between a couple in an intimate partnership, it may be with another family member.
It is recognised that children who grow up in a household in which their parents’ relationship is abusive – particularly where there is physical violence taking place – are likely to be harmed as a result.
If you are worried about the behaviour of someone you are in a relationship with, or if you are worried about somebody else you know, there are lots of places that can help. We know that people often find it very difficult to report domestic violence. This can be for any number of reasons, including sometimes that the person who is experiencing domestic violence blames themselves, or may feel ashamed, or hopes that their partner will change their behaviour, or is worried that reporting it may affect their children, or is worried what their other family members or the community may think, or worries that they will not be believed. It is normal to feel this way.
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland has a dedicated campaign to reduce domestic and sexual violence, known as “How Many Times?” You can visit their website to find out more and access support services:
How Many Times?
You can also telephone the following dedicated confidential helplines:
Domestic violence 0300 123 0918 (Leicester City)
Domestic abuse 0300 303 1844 (Leicestershire)
Domestic abuse 0300 365 0112 (Rutland)
Sexual violence 0300 333 6533 (Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland)
The links below will give you more information and will point you to more organisations which can help you.
National Domestic Violence Helpline
Report Domestic Abuse
NHS Help for Domestic Abuse
Leicester City Council
Leicestershire County Council
Leicester SAFE Domestic Violence Support Services
Leicestershire Protective Services (Womens Aid)
Safer Leicester Partnership
If you would like support and assistance addressing your own behaviour, or are worried that you may be making your partner scared or unhappy, you may wish to consider approaching the Jenkins Centre on 0116 254 0101. This organisation is run by Respect and FreeVA (Free from Violence and Abuse).
The Family Court may also be able to help you if you are in an abusive relationship.
Any violence and abuse will be considered if you are in a dispute with your partner about your children. You should read the DISPUTES ABOUT CHILDREN section, below.
If you need protection from an abusive relationship, you may wish to apply for a non-molestation order. This is an injunction which prevents the other person from carrying out acts which may be considered harassing or abusive towards you. You can download a copy of the application form here and a guidance form here.
If you live together with the person who is abusive towards you, you may wish to ask the court to make an occupation order. This may mean the other person can be excluded from the property, or could allow you to return if you have been excluded, and can manage the way you both occupy the property. The application form can be downloaded here and you can find a guidance form here.
You may wish to seek legal advice in relation to obtaining these protective orders. Visit the DO I NEED A LAWYER? section below. Legal Aid (funding for legal representation) may also be available to you, and you can find further information in that section.
FORCED MARRIAGE is where a person does not consent to a marriage and pressure or abuse is used against them. It has recently become a criminal offence to force someone to marry. Further guidance can be found here.
It is possible to apply for a forced marriage protection order if you believe that someone may be at risk of suffering forced marriage. A guidance leaflet can be found here and the application form is here.
Further organisations which may be able to assist you can be found in the USEFUL LINKS page, below.
FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (FGM) is a practice which is illegal in the UK. It is sometimes referred to as female circumcision. It is where the female genital organs are altered or injured for non-medical reasons.
The following links can give you further information and guidance on the practice of FGM:
“HONOUR” BASED VIOLENCE/CRIME are offences committed due to the mistaken belief that a person’s actions are bringing “shame” to a family. These are often based on religious or cultural beliefs and practices.
These sorts of crimes can be very difficult for the victim to report to outside agencies, for a number of reasons.
If you are in fear of this type of violence or would like further guidance, visit:
DIVORCE, SEPARATION & MONEY
If you are married or in a civil partnership and are considering separating from your partner, you may be thinking about getting a divorce or a dissolution of the civil partnership.
The procedure is very similar in both cases and you will need to apply to the Family Court. Some very helpful and simple guidance can be found on the government website by following the link below:
There are three main steps in both cases:
1. File a divorce/dissolution petition;
2. Apply for a decree nisi/conditional order;
3. Apply for a decree absolute/final order.
The grounds for divorce and dissolution are very similar. The relationship must have irretrievably broken down for one of the following reasons:
Your partner has behaved unreasonably and you find it intolerable to live with them
Your partner has deserted you
You have lived apart for more than two years and you both agree to the relationship ending
You have lived apart for more than five years
If you are married, you can also divorce on the grounds of adultery. This is not available for a dissolution of a civil partnership as adultery must involve sexual intercourse with a person of the opposite sex; however, if your civil partner has a sexual relationship with another person then this may be considered under the grounds of “unreasonable behaviour”.
A divorce/dissolution petition form can be found here.
There are lots of things to think about when you are separating, including what the arrangements for the care of any children should be and how you should both manage your financial affairs after the separation. You may be able to agree these issues between you, or you may wish to get help from a mediator or a lawyer. Sometimes, the Family Court may need to be involved to make a decision about the arrangements for the children, or to make a financial order. Further information can be found on this page about where you can get help and legal advice.
Applying for a financial order is a separate process to the divorce or dissolution. There are lots of different things to consider and the law is governor by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. There is very helpful guidance on the government website which you can find by following the link below:
gov.uk MONEY AND PROPERTY WHEN A RELATIONSHIP ENDS
www.advicenow.org.uk has published a very helpful guide for people who are considering applying for a financial order which can be downloaded below:
Applying for a financial order without the help of a lawyer
The Family Justice Council has also produced very helpful guidance:
Sorting out finances on divorce
When the application is before the court, the court will order that both parties disclose to each other information about all of their assets, money, property and income. This is normally done on a Form E. A First Directions Appointment (FDA) hearing will then be listed.
At all stages, parties are encouraged to try to negotiate and come to an agreed settlement. If this is not possible, then the court will make directions at the FDA to list the case for a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing (FDR). At this hearing the parties will set out their arguments to a Judge, who will then give an indication to the parties of the decision they would make if they were deciding the case. It is hoped that the parties can then bear the Judge’s views in mind and come to an agreed settlement.
If this is not possible, it is likely that the case will be listed for a Final Hearing. On that occasion, the Judge will hear all of the evidence and arguments and make a final decision about how the parties’ finances will be divided up.
Of course, ending a relationship can be a very difficult time. The links below will take you to some organisations which may be able to provide you with support:
DIVORCE SUPPORT GROUP
It is important to remember that if you are not married or in a civil partnership, the law about what will happen to your property when you separate is very different.
The Citizens Advice Bureau has produced a helpful guide which can be downloaded here.
If you own a property together then the law is governed by the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. You may wish to speak to a mediator or a lawyer if you have a dispute with your partner about the ownership of the property, whether the house should be sold or if you cannot agree how the money from the sale of a property should be divided.
If you are ever worried about the safety or wellbeing of a child, you should report it to Children’s Services at the Local Authority for the area where you live. They will be able to give you more advice about what to do next. If the situation is urgent, you should of course report the matter to the police immediately.
Leicester City Children and Young People’s Service: 0116 454 1004
Leicestershire County Council Children and Young People’s Service: 0116 3050005
For out of hours emergencies, call: 0116 2551606
SOCIAL SERVICES ARE WORRIED ABOUT MY CHILD
If the Local Authority (social services) are working with your family or have taken your case to court, this can be a very stressful time. You should go to see a solicitor as soon as possible. You will more than likely be entitled to free legal advice.
You may also find it helpful to get as much information as possible about the process and what rights you have. We think that you will find these links useful:
gov.uk IF YOUR CHILD IS TAKEN INTO CARE
FAMILY RIGHTS GROUP
CITIZENS ADVICE BUREAU
There is no substitute for proper legal advice in these circumstances. You should be careful about some of the information you might read on the internet about social services and The Family Court, because there are some websites which say that they offer “legal advice” and help to parents who have cases in The Family Court, but these are run by people who are not legally qualified and very often have hidden agendas. You may read that you should try to run away abroad with your child to avoid social services: you should not do this as it is likely to make things worse and may make it more difficult for you to keep your child in your care.
If your case goes to court, then it is likely that it will be some time before a final decision is made about where your child should live for the rest of its life. The law says that every effort should be made to make sure that the child can live with its parents; if this is not possible, the court will then consider whether there are any other family members who can care for the child; if this is not possible then it may be that the court has to make the difficult decision to order that a child needs to live outside of its family, perhaps in foster care or with adoptive parents.
This process can take time as the court will need lots of very important evidence before it is able to make a decision. However, the law says that this decision should be made within 26 weeks (6 months) of the start of the case, and that the case should only take longer than this if there are very good reasons for delaying the decision.
There are many different terms and phrases that you might hear if social services are involved with your child. These are very simple explanations of just a few of them:
This is an order under s.31 Children Act 1989 which means that the Local Authority can share parental responsibility with you over your child. It normally means that they can take decisions about where your child should live – normally away from you in foster care, although there can also be care orders over children who live with other family members or even at home with their parents. An interim care order can be made while there are ongoing court proceedings.
A Care Order can only be made if a court believes that your child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm if the order is not made.
A Care Order can last until a child is 18.
A Supervision Order is less serious than a Care Order but can still only be made if the court believes your child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. A Supervision Order can only last for a maximum of three years.
A Supervision Order requires the Local Authority to “advise, assist and befriend” a child and means that social services will continue to work with you and provide you with services to make sure that your child’s best interests are met.
Emergency Protection Order (EPO)
An EPO is only made in exceptional emergency circumstances, where there is a risk of immediate harm to a child. They can only last for the shortest time necessary.
Normally, if the Local Authority have applied for an EPO for your child, they will make an application for a Care Order very quickly afterwards.
Section 20 Consent to Accommodation
You may be asked by social services to give your consent to your child being taken into care, or to be placed with another family member who can care for them. Your permission to do this would be given under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
If you consent to your child being in care, and there is no Care Order, the Local Authority does not share parental responsibility with you. You are able to withdraw your consent. The Local Authority might still take the case to court.
Child Protection Plan/Child in Need Plan
Social services might be working with your family while your child still lives at home with you. They might not think that the case is serious enough to mean that the child needs to live somewhere else and they might not need to take the case to court. Your child may be on either a Child Protection Plan (CPP) or Child in Need (CIN) Plan. These will involve regular meetings between lots of different agencies who know your child (e.g. the health visitor, the school etc) and visits from social workers to make sure that the child is being well looked-after. It is best to work together with social services and to try to co-operate with the plans that are put in place so that any concerns which social services might have will improve.
Special Guardianship Order (SGO)
An SGO can only be made by a court. It is an order which means that a child is to live permanently with another person who is not one of their parents. It is not the same as a Child Arrangements Order because it gives the person special parental responsibility for the child which means that they can make most decisions without having the agreement of the parents.
An SGO is normally made to enable a child to live with a family member, instead of them having to go into care or be adopted.
Occasionally, a parent may take a child to another country without the permission of the other parent and refuse to return the child to the UK. This is known as international child abduction. Of course, this can be incredibly distressing. You should report this to the police immediately. The Family Court may be able to assist and it is highly recommended that you seek professional legal advice as soon as possible. This is a complicated are of law and time is often of the essence. The approach which will be taken by the court depends on the circumstances and which other country is involved.
The following links may be useful if you find yourself in this situation:
gov.uk INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION
CHILD ABDUCTION GUIDE
CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. CAFCASS become involved in court cases which are about children to give advice to the Court and to help to ensure that the child’s best interests are always put first.
You can find out much more information on the CAFCASS website:
WHAT IS THE COURT OF PROTECTION?
DO I NEED A LAWYER?
If you are already involved in court proceedings or if you think you may need advice about your family situation or a legal matter, you may decide to ask a lawyer to help you.
You can go to a solicitor or a barrister, or you may have both a solicitor and a barrister working on your case. Both can give you advice and assistance with your case or problem, and both can represent you and speak on your behalf at court if you need it.
The Solicitors’ Regulation Authority website can give you more information about using a solicitor and can help you find one:
The Leicestershire Law Society website can also help you find a local solicitor:
Many family lawyers are members of an organisation called Resolution. They aim to encourage solutions which consider the needs of the whole family, in particular the interests of the child.
The Bar Council website can help you to find a barrister, and the Public Access Directory will tell you which barristers you can instruct directly, without first going through a solicitor:
Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for Legal Aid, which means that all or part of the costs of your case could be paid for out of public funds. To find out more, visit
Obtaining Legal Aid
There are lots of places you can go to get free advice about your family or legal problem. The links below will give you more information.
Family Rights Group
There are many other helpful websites which you can visit, which you can find in the Useful Links section, below.
I AM REPRESENTING MYSELF
There are many resources available to assist people who have a case in court but who do not have a lawyer acting on their behalf (self-represented parties/litigants in person).
The Bar Council produces the following guidance for self-represented parties:
Bar Council Guidance for LIPs
The Judiciary has also produced a handbook for litigants in person:
There are also several books and guides that you can purchase.
Lucy Reed, a barrister at St John’s Chambers, Bristol has produced some videos which litigants in person may find very helpful to watch before going to court:
You may also be able to have a person who is not a lawyer but who can attend court with you to help you with your case. That person is known as a McKenzie Friend. They must be independent from your case and cannot speak on your behalf during the hearing. Further guidance about McKenzie Friends is here
Don’t forget that help and advice is available, even if you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer and are not entitled to Legal Aid. See our ADVICE CENTRES section, above. There is also a pro-bono duty solicitor scheme which runs at the Leicester Family Court. Further details can be found in DO I NEED A LAWYER? above.
How do I take my case to court?
You will need to make an application to the court. This will be done on an application form. You may be able to find the correct form you are looking for in the other sections, above. If not, the court staff should be able to help you find the correct form. You will probably have to pay an application fee; the court staff will be able to tell you what the fee is and also give you any guidance forms to help you to fill the form in properly.
How long will my case take?
It is impossible to say how long your case will take, but The Family Court is supposed to resolve cases as quickly as possible and to avoid any delay where it can. That being said, all cases will have some delay as the court has to wait for a Judge or Magistrates to be available to hear the case. You will be able to find out more about the procedure for each different type of case above. Normally, cases will take between a few weeks to a few months to conclude.
What do I do when I get to court?
Don’t be afraid to ask the court staff if you have any questions when you get to court. The security guards at the door should be able to point you in the right direction. When you have found out which court your case is being heard in, you should “sign in” with a clerk or usher when you are able to. You should make sure that the other parties have also arrived and speak to their lawyer, if they have one. If you have a lawyer, they will speak on your behalf and let you know what is happening. You should listen out for the name of your case being called out, as you will then go into court to see the Judge or Magistrates. The court ushers are there to help you and they will try to keep you updated if you are waiting for a while. You should remember that there will normally be other cases being heard in the same court, so you are unlikely to go into court first thing or at the time the hearing is listed.
What should I call the Judge?
A District Judge is called “Sir” or “Madam”. A Circuit Judge is called “Your Honour”. A High Court Judge is called “My Lord” or “My Lady”.
If your case is being heard by Magistrates, there will be three of them, but only the Magistrate sitting in the middle will talk. This is the Chairperson of the Bench and they are called “Sir” or “Madam”. You may also hear Magistrates being called “Your Worships”.
What should I wear for court?
You can wear whatever you like to court, but it is probably best to try to dress smartly. The Judges, court staff and the lawyers will all be dressed smartly, most likely in suits.
What will happen at the hearing?
Every hearing is different so it is impossible to say here what will happen in your case. However, you do not need to worry or be nervous about the court hearing. Judges, court staff and the lawyers are here to help you, so do not be frightened to ask if you do not completely understand something.
You will be expected to try to resolve the dispute if at all possible. You should try to talk to the person on the other side if you can, and should definitely talk to their lawyer if they have one. A CAFCASS officer may also be there to help you and it is important that you talk to them.
The Judge or Magistrates will already have read the papers (in a court file or “bundle”) before you come into court, so you do not need to explain all of the history. The Judge will probably ask you what you want to happen and will guide you through the process.
After a decision has been made, you will get an order from the court. This might be an order making directions about the filing of evidence (see below) or it might be an order which says what should happen with your child/finances. It is essential that you do everything which you are supposed to do in the order.
If you disagree with anything that is ordered, you might want to appeal the decision. It is probably best that you try to get some legal advice about any appeals.
You can watch some very helpful videos about what happens in The Family Court in the I AM REPRESENTING MYSELF section, above.
What is a “party” to the proceedings?
The people who are involved on each side of the case are known as “parties”. The person who makes the application is called the “applicant”. The person who has to respond to the application (normally the other parent or spouse) is called the “respondent”. There might be more than one respondent; for example, in care proceedings, the Local Authority is the applicant, the Mother is normally the first respondent and the father is usually the second respondent. The child involved is also always a party in care proceedings and will be the third respondent (more, if there is more than one child). The child may also be added as party in private law proceedings.
In divorce, the person who makes the petition for divorce is called the “petitioner”. The other spouse is the “respondent”.
If the case is an appeal, the person who wants to appeal the decision is called the “appellant”. The other party is still the “respondent”.
What is a directions hearing?
Not all hearings are full “trials”. Some hearings are intended for the Judge to make a decision in the case and it is expected that the Judge will hear some evidence and all the parties’ arguments; these are normally called “contested hearings” or “final hearings”. A “directions hearing” is a shorter hearing where it is expected that the court will make arrangements for all of the evidence that needs to be gathered for a decision to be made on another day. The court will give directions to the parties about when to file evidence and when the case will come back to court on another day. It is rare that a final decision will be made at a directions hearing unless the parties both agree about what should happen.
What does “file and serve” mean?
This means that you should produce the evidence that you want to rely on – probably a witness statement, but you may be ordered to file and serve other types of evidence – and send it to the court and all the other parties by the given date and time. The court will be able to give you the address for filing your evidence. It is important that you stick to any dates that are in a court order; if you do not then it is likely to delay your case and the court might make you pay any costs that the other party has run up because of the delay.
What is a witness statement?
A witness statement is a document containing a written account of a person’s evidence. It should only contain evidence that is relevant to the case. It should be signed by the person giving the evidence, together with a statement of truth: “I believe that the contents of this statement are true.”
Further advice about how to write your witness statement and a helpful template can be found here.
What does “disclosure” mean?
Disclosure is the process of revealing evidence to the other party and the court which they might not already know about.
You will probably hear this more often in financial cases. Disclosure means that you have to give the other side and the court absolutely full, honest information about all the money, assets and income that you have. This is normally done via a Form E – see the DIVORCE, SEPARATION & MONEY section, above.
You might also hear this in children cases. Disclosure of information and evidence is often obtained from the police, where they have had involvement with the family. Disclosure might also be obtained about any information which social services have.
Who can I talk to about my case?
Family proceedings are usually completely confidential so there are only rare circumstances that mean that you can tell people what is going on in your case or what has been said in court. You should not show people the court documents or evidence. It is a contempt of court to do this and you might be punished, possibly by imprisonment.
You are allowed to talk to your lawyer, legal adviser or McKenzie Friend about your case. You are allowed to talk to a doctor or therapist in order to obtain advice or treatment.
You should be very careful about what you post on social media about your case. As a rule of thumb, do not put anything on Facebook, twitter or any other social media outlet about the court case, hearing or any decision which has been made.
Further details about who you can talk to about your case can be found here.
The press will not normally be at court for your hearing, although they may do in very rare circumstances. You can read more here.
Revised standard PLO documents for use in Leicester
In this section you will find documents, guidance, forms and links relevant to public law and safeguarding children cases.
Public Law Outline Introduction
PLO Care Application
Social Work Evidence Template
Guidance for completing social work statements
(Leicester) Practice Guidance for Social Workers Statements
Case Management Protocol
Allocation & Gatekeeping Schedule
Allocation & Gatekeeping Guidance
Continuity & Deployment Guidance
Disclosure in linked criminal proceedings
Pre proceedings protocol January 2016
Timetable Extension Guidance
Section 20 Practice Guidance
Transparency Project Section 20
Statutory Guidance on Court Orders and Pre-Proceedings
NATIONAL MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR ADOPTION SERVICES
Promoting the Educational Attainment of Looked After Children
Children Act 1989 Care Planning Placement Case Review
Looked After Children and Youth Justice
Early permanence placements and approval of prospective adopters as foster carers
Looked After Children Contact with Siblings
Out of Authority Placement of Looked After Children
Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers
Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers
Approval of Foster Carers Flowchart
Special Guardianship Regulations Guidance
You can also find many useful documents, statutes and guidance at the following website:Judiciary Family Court Guide
The following sites are particularly helpful for social workers and those interested in safeguarding children practice and procedure:
DIVORCE & FINANCIAL RELIEF
In this section you will find relevant documents and links with respect to divorce, financial relief and child maintenance.
These are the most commonly used forms when petitioning for divorce or applying for a financial order:
These links may assist you with child maintenance:
You may also find the following website useful:
Filing for Divorce
These are the standard orders to use when drafting directions or final orders in financial relief proceedings:
Listing Contested Hearings Guidance
Transparency Local Practice Guidance
Quick Look Bundles Guide
Local Bundles Practice Direction
Annex C - Leicestershire Police
Contempt of Court 1
Contempt of Court 2
Document Filing Guidance
Justices Reasons - Uncontested Cases
Practice Direction 27A
Guidance - Information from Police
Leicester Guidance 16.4
Practice Guidance - Court Transparency
Practice Guidance - Family Transparency
Communicating with the Home Office
Certificate of Time Estimate.doc
STATUTES, RULES & STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS
Children Act 1989
Adoption and Children Act 2002
Matrimonial Causes Act 1973
Family Law Act 1996
Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996
Children and Families Act 2014
Family Procedure Rules 2010
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008
Civil Partnership Act 2004
Human Rights Act 1998
European Convention on Human Rights
Brussels II Convention