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What Happens at the Family Court?

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 8 Nov 2017 |
 
Court Family Expect Lawyer Hearing Case

All sorts of family hearings are heard at the family court, ranging from contact, residence, adoption and local authority care. Some family courts are heard in magistrates courts, others are in dedicated family courts centres (usually in larger towns and cities.) Family court hearings are generally less formal than, say criminal cases, in that the barristers are not wearing wigs and gowns, and the style of the hearing is less legalistic than other types of hearings. Of course, that does not mean that you should treat the family court with any less respect – it is still a court environment.

Getting To Court

Courts often sit at 10.00am or 10.30am. Either way, you should arrive in good time, especially if you are meeting your lawyer beforehand. Always attend your hearings, unless you have explicitly been excluded from having to go along, for example if it’s just a directions hearing that the lawyers need to attend.

On Arrival

When you get to the family court, do not be surprised to see other people sitting around waiting. You should make yourself known to the court usher, who is a man or woman usually wearing a gown and holding a clipboard. Tell them your name and they will mark you down as being in attendance. If your lawyer is already at court, they may introduce you to them if you haven’t met them before, or tell you where you can find them.

Your Case

Often the court will list several hearings which are called on in the order in which they are ready to proceed. Your first hearing is very unlikely to be your last – as normally you will have a preliminary hearing in which directions are given about evidence, statements of case, and deadlines for when documents need to be served.

The Media

All family court hearings are private. This means that although members of the press may be in court and report on hearings, they cannot name the parties in the case or anyone else involved in the proceedings.

Effective Hearings

If you are at court for your effective hearing, the applicant or their lawyer will open the case. The applicant is the person making the application, and the respondent is the person opposing it. At the beginning the applicant will make an opening statement about the case and why they are making the application. The respondent will then have a chance to tell the court why they oppose the application. The magistrates, or the judge, will then ask questions if they need to clarify anything and one or both sides may give evidence on their own behalf, and/or call witnesses.

Conduct In The Family Court

Regardless of whether you are represented or not, you should always treat court staff, lawyers and the tribunal hearing the case with respect. For those who are representing themselves in court, in particular, it can be a stressful and nerve-wracking experience. Without exception, though, if you are calm, polite, and controlled in the way that you approach the whole process you will undoubtedly command more respect and authority than someone who loses their temper. Yes, it can be hard if you’re fighting over your children, your livelihood or something else that you feel passionately about – but a calm exterior can do wonders for your case! It is possible to bring a friend or family member with you for support, but make sure that you have cleared this with the court first. You can ask your lawyer to do this for you, if you have one.

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A court hearing has been arranged for a date when I am working away. I'm self employed and can't afford to either lose the job or travel 300 miles home , and then go back. Can I get it put back a week or so?
Gillsteve - 8-Nov-17 @ 8:05 PM
Hi I've got a ongoing court case to try and get access to my daughter I have been accused off d.v But from what I understand they take her word as gospel how do I go about trying to disprove thatand if I can't what's the likely hood of me beingdenied access ?
Kk - 29-Oct-17 @ 5:30 PM
Anne - Your Question:
My partner went to court earlier this year as he wanted to maintain the 50/50 custody that he'd had for the previous two years. In court his ex said that she was changing her hours of work and the court decided to give her custody of the children during the week based on this as they were better off with mother than grandmother. She hasn't changed her hours and we believe she lied in court - is there anything that we can do about it?

Our Response:
In the first instance you should request mediation in order to try to resolve the matter out of court given her hours have not changed. If your partner's ex refuses, then your partner would have to take the matter back to court. Alternatively, a carefully worded solicitor's letter also may also prompt your partner's ex into revising the arrangement back to the previous order if the ruling was based purely on the change of hours.
CourtroomAdvice - 3-Aug-17 @ 2:55 PM
My partner went to court earlier this year as he wanted to maintain the 50/50 custody that he'd had for the previous two years.In court his ex said that she was changing her hours of work and the court decided to give her custody of the children during the week based on this as they were better off with mother than grandmother. She hasn't changed her hours and we believe she lied in court - is there anything that we can do about it?
Anne - 2-Aug-17 @ 9:11 PM
I have just had a Final Hearing in my divorce financial remedy. Are. My husband has not complied throughout the proceedings. The judge was favourable to me. My husband did not show up at Final Hearing and is now requesting to appeal. He has also broken several aspects of the order. What should I ask the court to do? It's the County Court or do I ask after I find out if he is allowed to appeal?
Elaine - 14-Jun-17 @ 10:34 PM
I am going to family court in may due to disputing allegations made with what what stated on the divorce papers. It would have been simple for my x to have stated we have been apart for a considerable time but he did not. My health has been poor since his departure 4 years ago. He left just after our 4th ivf was meant to commence and also did not tell me he had a vasectomy before entering our marriage. I really could not cope if we brought his new partner with him to court as I believe he left me for her. Ideally I do not wish to see either of them due to not being strong enough to cope?
H - 1-Apr-17 @ 10:42 AM
Benny - Your Question:
Hi I have a child arrangements order made in my favour to safeguard my 15 year old son He keeps running back to his mother whom he was removed from for abuse and neglect.Now he and his mother have concocted a lie accusing my wife of 15 years of assaulting him in order for him to stay awayThe police and social services are investigating the allegations and the police officer informed us it won't go anywhere However the police or social services will not help in returning him home He's currently been gone 3 weeks and now social services are telling me I'm in breach of the order as I'm not safeguarding him.I explained we are trying but we can't keep him safe if they won't return him but they aren't interested.This whole situation is causing massive amounts of stress on myself and the rest of my family including 2 other kids 1 of whom has brain damage.Please help

Our Response:
If you have a residency order for your son, then you can get the police involved to have him returned. However, if the police are refusing this, there is little you can do if an investigation is taking place. If social services are conflicting this by accusing you of not safeguarding your son, you can complain, please see CAB link here.
CourtroomAdvice - 21-Dec-16 @ 12:26 PM
Hi I have a child arrangements order made in my favour to safeguard my 15 year old son He keeps running back to his mother whom he was removed from for abuse and neglect. Now he and his mother have concocted a lie accusing my wife of 15 years of assaulting him in order for him to stay away The police and social services are investigating the allegations and the police officer informed us it won't go anywhere However the police or social services will not help in returning him home He's currently been gone 3 weeks and now social services are telling me I'm in breach of the order as I'm not safeguarding him . I explained we are trying but we can't keep him safe if they won't return him but they aren't interested. This whole situation is causing massive amounts of stress on myself and the rest of my family including 2 other kids 1 of whom has brain damage. Please help
Benny - 20-Dec-16 @ 7:03 PM
Hi I have a court hearing in the nest fe days. On the previous occasion 3 years ago I was unable to have direct contact with our child, the court agreed non direct contact - via letter, presents cards on special occasions. This was due to my child saying they did not want contact, at the time the child was 10 and heavily influenced by mum. The child is now 14, Initially did not take my letters but has been doing over the past 2 years. Mum is not aware that th child is taking my letters as Cafcass told me mum says she doesn't take the letters. My child is being manipulated and I'm so worried as they are unable to speak there mind or independently make a decision without upsetting mum. After the last hearing I did not pursue and further for direct contact as I felt it would be too distressing for the child. Please advice. Thank you
Jay - 21-Nov-16 @ 2:57 PM
My ex partner (with whom my daughter lives) says she intends to change the court order and reducie weekend and holiday contact. Can I apply for Enforcement Procedure (c79) now or do I have to wait for the first breach to take place? She has clearly stated her intention to reduce contact
Peter - 12-Nov-16 @ 6:58 AM
I had court hearing on 2nd of august and judge said tht she will let us know within three weeks but its nearly nine weeks after court hearing n we didnt receive anything from judgecan anyoneplz tell us how long it takes to know abt judge issuing decisions
T.k - 7-Oct-16 @ 10:50 PM
Hi, Following on from your earlier advice (really useful & good to know) it has brought something else to light in recent days. My partner still is having no luck trying to see her son for the court ordered 3 weekends in 4 that she is entitled to by the contact order. She received a reply to her most recent message which said "I believe in the best interest of him that he spend every other weekend at home" - Now things make a bit more sense. If my partner returns this to court for breach of the order then he will try to have the order amended to alternatate weekends. Can the court effectively penalise my partner by reducing the number of weekends she sees her son on the back of her application for enforcement? Or will he need to make his own application for an amendment to the order and prove that it is in their sons best interests to switch to every other weekend? Seems highly unfair that my partner will pay for application fee for the enforcement order she seeks only to potentially be punished further as a result. Like I said in my previous message - everything about this case has let her down from start to finish and nothing has followed what you might call 'proper process'. She has no faith in the courts and if there is even the slightest chance she could come out of this worse off then there is no way she will take this matter further. Thanking you once again for your help in advance. Neil
Neil - 27-Sep-16 @ 11:15 PM
Neil - Your Question:
My partner is the non resident parent of her 9 year old son following a residency hearing in October 2015. The general rule over contact is 3 weekends in 4 during term time, 2 calls a week and a call on the weekend when she doesn't have her son. School holidays split evenly etc. He lives in Birmingham, my partner is Essex with pick up/drop off happening half way between.Since the order was made her ex has breached this order on at least 5 (possibly more) occasions where he hasn't made her son available at weekends. Any advice, comments or thoughts would really be appreciated.

Our Response:
I am sorry to hear this. Anything that does not comply with the order is a breach. For example if the order states that the non-resident parent should have contact every Friday from 5pm and contact is not provided until 5:05pm, this is technically a breach of the order. However, it is important to be reasonable; the courts are unlikely to take any action if the breach is insignificant. But in this case the breaches ARE significant and should be acted upon. Any changes to a contact order MUST be agreed by both parties. One party cannot unilaterally decide to change the order or apply additional terms. If they wish to do so, they will need to refer the matter back to the courts. Therefore, your parnter is well within her rights to take the matter back to court and she must keep an acount of all the breaches. If she cannot afford the legal fees, then she would have the option to self-litigate. The Bar Council gives an informative guide via the link here. In the first instance it may be worthwhile asking a solicitor to draft a letter outlining her ex's strict legal commitment to the order and if it is not upheld she will refer the matter to court, which may do the trick. I hope this helps.
CourtroomAdvice - 21-Sep-16 @ 12:33 PM
My partner is the non resident parent of her 9 year old son following a residency hearing in October 2015. The general rule over contact is 3 weekends in 4 during term time, 2 calls a week and a call on the weekend when she doesn't have her son. School holidays split evenly etc. He lives in Birmingham, my partner is Essex with pick up/drop off happening half way between. Since the order was made her ex has breached this order on at least 5 (possibly more) occasions where he hasn't made her son available at weekends. In March he produced his own version of a calendar that doesn't comply with the order. Since then there have been messages, a solicitors letter sent explaining why his calendar wasn't compliant which was ignored, and most recently an offer of mediation to resolve these issues - again ignored. This month my partner will only see her son for 1 weekend - He has sent a message saying that he and his new girlfriend are attending a wedding this weekend and will not be able to pick up from the normal meeting point. He expected my partner to either give up a day of her time with her son by meeting early on Sunday morning or to drive from Essex to Birmingham and back in the same evening. She rejected both and offered to swap a weekend (3rd/4th Sept which was still classed as school holidays) - He refused this. Now he has messaged to say he will not be making their son available at all. To make this even worse the weekend 10/11 Sept was agreed to be spent in Birmingham for his half sisters birthday but is court ordered to be swapped... its not being swapped. He is now not being made available until 7th October. My partner has seen her son for 2 days in what will be over 6 weeks. The messages sent are usually aggressive and border abusive - She has had to involve the police on grounds of harassment as well as at one point they were just too much. My question really is.... At what point will a court take these breaches seriously and take appropriate action? To spend the thousands required by making an enforcement application and seeking representation we both feel there would need to be a high percentage chance of success in court. I don't think my partner would cope if we returned this to court for her to lose another fight over her son and if anything would only make the current situation worse. He clearly feels he is above the law and doesn't have any intention to comply with the order. My partner has done everything she can possibly do to resolve issues without involving the courts but he just seems to goad her - almost as if he wants this to return to court. Any advice, comments or thoughts would really be appreciated.
Neil - 20-Sep-16 @ 2:14 PM
Concerned parent- Your Question:
Hi. I am going to court next week as my sons father is filing for child arrangements order for access. I oppose the order for many reasons but manly as my son does not wish for see his father and has told him many times why. I have sent a stately to court but only just realised I was meant to send a copy to the other parent also. I did not keep a copy of my statement so the wording if I was to send it now would be slightly different. Would this be a problem at the first hearing? And if so what might happen please?

Our Response:
I'm afraid we can't advice on this as it's outside our remit. Your legal representative (if you have one) will be able to advise. Otherwise, you may wish to contact the courts directly.
CourtroomAdvice - 16-Sep-16 @ 10:41 AM
Hi. I am going to court next week as my sons father is filing for child arrangements order for access. I oppose the order for many reasons but manly as my son does not wish for see his father and has told him many times why. I have sent a stately to court but only just realised I was meant to send a copy to the other parent also. I did not keep a copy of my statement so the wording if I was to send it now would be slightly different. Would this be a problem at the first hearing? And if so what might happen please?
Concerned parent - 15-Sep-16 @ 11:46 AM
hi can you help my brother rang court to check date was miss informed of date so all previous actions took have been dismissed by court and he isn't allowed access is this fair as he has had to fight to take to court and pay legal fees to be told he can no longer take any more action as he missed court date ,
Kerry - 6-May-16 @ 11:12 PM
I did not turn up for family court today either did my ex what happens now
Dmack - 15-Apr-16 @ 5:27 AM
Hi does anyone know what will happen, I've just moved house, ss being idiots stopping my partner from seeing our daughters. I have a hearing soon what can happen if i don't go?
Jen - 8-Apr-16 @ 10:43 PM
Hi at a directions hearing the court decided that the new baby of the parents gets returned but under an order !! my grandaughter lives with me an court says she should stay where she is and so have social services will this be the case at the final hearing please
Flatfish - 1-Apr-16 @ 10:40 PM
I have seen this asked before but I havent seen a formal response. What happens if the Mother does not attend the First Hearing Dispute Resolution. I understand it will be held against her but what is the next step.Will Cafcass go on to contact her to interview her etc or will the Judge summons her to court? Thanks in advance for any advice.
JAM - 30-Mar-16 @ 9:28 PM
Hi I've been in court the last yrs or so for custody of my son and his dad is not allowed access. We are having a contested hearing in April and I've just received my bundle from my previous solicitor would I be able to get a new solicitor this soon
Jue1 - 22-Mar-16 @ 5:25 PM
Shell - Your Question:
Hi can you help my parents nan has been Section Due to mental health issues, on his grand ads will it says that the house she lived in is his but she can stay there till she passes or can no longer pay the upkeep of the house. So we need to change the deeds over to my parents name. So we can take over the house but our solicitor has told us it has to go to court to be done, would you advise us on what court we will have to proceed with, as I don't think a small clams court can help us. Thankyou for your time

Our Response:
A transfer of equity is when someone is added or removed from the title deeds - therefore, in this case your solicitor should be able to advise on taking the matter further.
CourtroomAdvice - 21-Mar-16 @ 1:39 PM
Hi can you help my parents nan has been SectionDue to mental health issues, on his grand ads will it says that the house she lived in is his but she can stay there till she passes or can no longer pay the upkeep of the house. So we need to change the deeds over to my parents name. So we can take over the house but oursolicitorhas told us it has to go to court to be done, would you advise us on what court we will have toproceed with, as I don't think a small clams court can help us. Thankyou for your time
Shell - 18-Mar-16 @ 8:55 PM
We're due to go into court for a fact finding but 3 of my four witnesses are on holiday. I'm representing myself. Can I postpone? If so how do I go about doing it?
Mumma - 14-Mar-16 @ 10:09 AM
My parents are taking me to court to see my 3 girls we had a little argument last May/June over my sis promising my 9 year old money for her birthday which was February my mum and I decided every other weekend she would see my kids and wanted my eldest only the other weekend which is not fair on my other 2 they r 1 and 2 my parents have said they will not have them over night till they are 3 years old anyway they was looking apparently how to get a contact order to see my kids as my 9 year old enjoys going out on her motorbike so when she said I don't wanna go out with Nan today I wanna go on my bike my mum got funny said that we was telling her to say that she then didn't come to get the youngest ones left them waiting so she apparently got told to ring nspcc for contact order but amazingly put in a report about my kids I had the police turn up which scared my eldest and now she is scared of police then social services got involved the case got shut as my kids r ok but my parents done this and I can't forgive them then I get letter from family court saying they want access think they have a nerve my eldest says she hates them and doesn't want to see them court is tomorrow I'm so nervous case they make more stuff up
Zarab - 3-Mar-16 @ 11:42 AM
My parents are taking me to court to see my 3 girls we had a little argument last May/June over my sis promising my 9 year old money for her birthday which was February my mum and I decided every other weekend she would see my kids and wanted my eldest only the other weekend which is not fair on my other 2 they r 1 and 2 my parents have said they will not have them over night till they are 3 years old anyway they was looking apparently how to get a contact order to see my kids as my 9 year old enjoys going out on her motorbike so when she said I don't wanna go out with Nan today I wanna go on my bike my mum got funny said that we was telling her to say that she then didn't come to get the youngest ones left them waiting so she apparently got told to ring nspcc for contact order but amazingly put in a report about my kids I had the police turn up which scared my eldest and now she is scared of police then social services got involved the case got shut as my kids r ok but my parents done this and I can't forgive them then I get letter from family court saying they want access think they have a nerve my eldest says she hates them and doesn't want to see them court is tomorrow I'm so nervous case they make more stuff up
Zarab - 3-Mar-16 @ 10:09 AM
Taylor - Your Question:
Ex partner and I have a court order which states he is to have out son 2 weekends a month ( he is to have him 6pm from till 6pm Sunday he is not allowed to drink : he has been leaving my son with family members and going out drinkin what can I do?

Our Response:
If he is in breach of the court order, please see the link: Breach of Court Order: What Steps to Take Next? here . You can either attempt to take it back to court and have the order revoked, or attempt to have the order enforced.
CourtroomAdvice - 1-Mar-16 @ 11:11 AM
Ex partner and I have a court order which states he is to have out son 2 weekends a month ( he is to have him 6pm from till 6pm Sunday he is not allowed to drink : he has been leaving my son with family members and going out drinkin what can I do?
Taylor - 29-Feb-16 @ 10:44 AM
Muggins - Your Question:
Been to court and judge issued an order in 2012. We divide holidays and can't holiday out of uk without having agreement. Ex took me to court for a holiday which was unsafe venue. Court dismissed and said no as we need to agree. Ex went ahead and took them to an alternative venue and is returning them late therefore breaching the order. Taking this matter back to court. What will happen please.

Our Response:
I'm afraid we cannot predict what a court may decide.
CourtroomAdvice - 18-Feb-16 @ 11:27 AM
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