Home > The Court Process > What Happens at Family Court?

What Happens at Family Court?

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 18 Oct 2017 |
 
Family Court Lawyer Hearing Case Person

The Family Court is essentially a specialist court in which family matters are decided. These range from adoption, contact with and residence of children and the taking of children into care. Although it is still a court environment, it is less formal than other types of courts. Barristers are not in wigs and gowns, and the whole hearing may be conducted around a large table – rather like a company meeting. In other cases, the courtroom might look more like a traditional court.

That said, it is always wise to be respectful to everyone you meet and to behave in a dignified fashion – regardless of how churned up you might feel inside. Those that remain calm are always seen more favourably by the courts than people who shout, are rude, or cause disruption to proceedings.

When to Get There

You should ensure you arrive at court in good time. If the court is sitting at 10.30am, you should aim to be there by 9.45am or earlier if your solicitor advises you to. When you arrive at court, don’t be surprised if there are a number of other people there, too. The court often operates in ‘lists’, which means that cases get called on in a specific order, or are called on as and when they are ‘ready’ to go on. This means that you may have a long wait until your case is called on, so take something to read.

You should make yourself known to the ‘usher’, who is usually a person wearing a black robe and holding a clipboard. If you have a solicitor, or if you’re being represented by a barrister (read our article Does Having a Good Lawyer Help? on this site), the usher should also be able to tell you if they have arrived yet and where they are.

What Happens in Court

It is very unlikely that your case will be dealt with at the first hearing. You are likely to have to go back to the Family Court on two or more occasions. At the first hearing, the court may make directions as to the filing of statements of case, or evidence, and give deadlines for when these things need to be filed. All family court proceedings are currently held in private, and will not be publicly reported – although there are changes on the way that will allow accredited journalists to be present in court hearings and report on them. It is not possible, in these circumstances, for the media to name the parties or anyone involved in the case.

Hearings

When your hearing is effective, the applicant – i.e. the person who is making the application – will speak first. If you are represented by a solicitor, they will do this on your behalf. This opening statement basically sets out what your application is and why you are making it. Then the other side will be invited to reply and to explain why they oppose the application. The judges or magistrates will ask questions of either party to clarify certain matters, if appropriate. You may be called to give evidence, which means that you will talk about any statement you have made under oath. The other side’s lawyer will ask you questions, and the judge or magistrates may also ask you questions as well.

Attendance and Bringing Friends For Support

You should always attend Family Court hearings unless you have specifically been excused from doing so, e.g. if it is simply a directions hearing that both solicitors need to attend. You can always take a Friend or relative along with you to help you, but you must obtain the permission of the court to do this. It is worth remembering, however, that if the friend or relative that you bring to court is also a witness in your case, they will not be able to sit in on the proceedings until after they have given evidence.

Check out the Separated Dads Forum... It's a great resource where you can ask for advice on topics including Child Access, Maintenance, CAFCASS, Fathers Rights, Court, Behaviour or simply to have a chat with other dads.

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My sister has been taken to court by her ex partner 2 times now and he is taking her to court again in November. He hasn’t abided by any of the rules that was given to him. How many chances does he get? He don’t pay anything to the child and he was stated he had to see him in a contact centre, any advice please
Lucyhannah95 - 18-Oct-17 @ 11:16 AM
deee - Your Question:
My partner threatens me that he will take my children to court to state (PR) parental responsibility if I don't stay with him, he is disabled and suffers with a few conditions. I on the other hand am stable and a loving mother and no longer deal with the threats Can someone answer my question? What will happen if this matter was taken to family courts.

Our Response:
Your partner will not be able to apply directly to the family courts without applying to try to resolve any issues you have between you via mediation first. Mediation must be considered before the courts will allow any application for an order, please see link here .
SeparatedDads - 9-Oct-17 @ 2:22 PM
My partner threatens me that he will take my children to courtto state (PR) parental responsibility ifI don't stay with him, he is disabled and suffers with a few conditions. I on the other hand am stable and a loving mother and no longer deal with the threats Can someone answer my question? What will happen if this matter was taken to family courts.
deee - 8-Oct-17 @ 8:58 PM
Mama bear - Your Question:
My son is going to court as he hadn't seen his children since February he's tried everything. Supervised contact she didn't respond mediation she didn't respond and hes representing himself as we can't afford a solicitor. The date is this Friday 29/9/17 if she again doesn't turn up what will happen ? As paying out for court etc is expensive.

Our Response:
It's a tricky question to answer without knowing the full circumstances. However, as a rule, if the party who does not attend is the respondent, the court may proceed with the hearing in that parent's absence if it is satisfied that the respondent received reasonable notice of the hearing and if the circumstances of the case justify proceeding with the hearing. However, if the court cannot proceed with a hearing, it can penalise the respondent by ordering them to pay the other party's costs of the hearing and or order them to attend court at another date.
SeparatedDads - 28-Sep-17 @ 12:03 PM
My son is going to court as he hadn't seen his children since February he's tried everything . Supervised contact she didn't respond mediation she didn't respond and hes representing himself as we can't afford a solicitor.The date is this Friday 29/9/17 if she again doesn't turn up what will happen ? As paying out for court etc is expensive.
Mama bear - 27-Sep-17 @ 5:56 PM
Chez - Your Question:
My husband is telling me that if I carry on with divorce that he will be my sons main carer allowing me to see him but he will make all decisions.I have not be able to find another job as Family support worker since being made redundant.my main role has been mother and have just given up my lace at uni as he threatened to quit work and take over the job that I was doing at home. I feel it's emotional abuse. My husband works hard from 7 until7 own business and earns a great deal. I believe it's a case of financial control. I have no money but savings for my car and been told I can't claim benefits. I have done all appointments school runs holiday care and care for my son and am devastated but scared as he tried to stop his ex wife from having residence. His two children come here aged19 and 16 every other weekend I cook and clean for them they don't not speak to me for approx four years. Will the court remove my son from my care as he has all the finances job etc.

Our Response:
I am sorry to hear this. The court will not remove your child from your care if you do not have finances. If you are the day-to-day carer of your child, then it is more likely you would be awarded continued care of your son. You would also be awarded half or maybe more of the equity and finances you and your husband own through marriage. If you feel you are being emotionally bullied, then I suggest you ask for guidance and help through the likes of Woman's Aid, please see link here. However, please also be aware that as two people have parental responsible, they are both responsible for having equal care of the child, please see link here. As in all cases, the court’s main concern is the welfare of the child in question. The court will always put the child’s best interests first and this main issue will determine the outcome of any application for an order.
SeparatedDads - 11-Sep-17 @ 12:25 PM
My husband is telling me that if i carry on with divorce that he will be my sons main carer allowing me to see him but he will make all decisions.I have not be able to find another job as Family support worker since being made redundant.my main role has been mother and have just given up my lace at uni as he threatened to quit work and take over the job that I was doing at home . I feel it's emotional abuse. My husband works hard from 7 until7 own business and earns a great deal . I believe it's a case of financial control . I have no money but savings for my car and been told I can't claim benefits. I have done all appointments school runs holiday care and care for my son and am devastated but scared as he tried to stop his ex wife from having residence. His two children come here aged19and 16 every other weekend I cook and clean for them they don't not speak to me for approx four years. Will the court remove my son from my care as he has all the finances job etc.
Chez - 10-Sep-17 @ 12:15 PM
Georgia - Your Question:
My friends ex wants to take him to court to have his children every other weekend but he works every weekend as he is in hospitality. He has them 3 days a week already and will lose his job if he has to have them on the weekend. Can his ex take him to court about it and who would win? He is rather worried about not being able to provide and live if he has to have them every other weekend

Our Response:
It is unlikely a court will let your friend's ex apply before mediation is explored first. Mediation is a way of trying to resolve such issues before the matter goes to court.
SeparatedDads - 7-Sep-17 @ 9:55 AM
My friends ex wants to take him to court to have his children every other weekend but he works every weekend as he is in hospitality. He has them 3 days a week already and will lose his job if he has to have them on the weekend. Can his ex take him to court about it and who would win? He is rather worried about not being able to provide and live if he has to have them every other weekend
Georgia - 6-Sep-17 @ 2:02 PM
My ex keeps trying to force me to court about Child Maintenance. What would happen if I just carried on with usual transfers and didn't show up to the audience?
Tom - 11-Aug-17 @ 8:37 PM
I've married in customary law,my husband lost a job recently and took his pension to spent with girlfriends, he Neva sleeps in our house anymore and I'm afraid we might be thrown out cos the bond wasn't paidup ,can I take him to court for me to have the share of his money to raise our two little kids age 10 n 7
MaB - 31-Jul-17 @ 11:33 AM
Ryanm- Your Question:
I have filed a court application to take my ex to court for proper arrangements with our two children. I attempted to set up mediation but she would not attend and has told me if I take her to court she simply won't show up. Will the courts do anything to ensure she must turn up?

Our Response:
If you have proof your ex has informed you she will not turn up, then you should present this to your solicitor or the court as evidence. The court may adjourn the case, but it can also decide to issue a contact order in her absence. The contact order will come with a warning that she has to keep to the order or she will be in contempt of court.
SeparatedDads - 7-Jul-17 @ 11:18 AM
I have filed a court application to take my ex to court for proper arrangements with our two children. I attempted to set up mediation but she would not attend and has told me if I take her to court she simply won't show up. Will the courts do anything to ensure she must turn up?
Ryanm - 6-Jul-17 @ 4:59 PM
seanp25 - Your Question:
I've separated with my ex last year she is refusing me contact as I smoke some cannabis most weekends it isn't anywhere near my home or my son ever, I work full time and have my own home I've never been violent never raised my hand, the break up was quite bad from both party's I've apologised tried to be as nice as possible but she still refused most likely it will go to court after her refusing mediation and contact centers, I know the cannabis wont help my case but it doesn't affect my day to day life or how I care for my child, I was just wondering what your opinion on my situation would be and if there's anything I could do?

Our Response:
You are correct when you say that smoking cannabis will not help your case. Attitudes to cannabis vary and occasional use may not be considered detrimental to a contact application but most judges do not ‘approve’ of any illegal drug use, especially hard drugs. This does not necessarily mean that the court will not order some form of contact and it can order drug testing where it deems appropriate. The 'anything I could do' would be to stop smoking cannabis so that it does not affect your relationship with your child and your application for contact. The court will always put what it thinks is in the best interests of your child first when making any decision with regards to contact or access. Before awarding access/contact, the court will also want to be sure that it thinks you as a parent does too.
SeparatedDads - 4-Jul-17 @ 11:19 AM
I've separated with my ex last year she is refusing me contact as I smoke some cannabis most weekends it isn't anywhere near my home or my son ever, i work full time and have my own home I've never been violent never raised my hand, the break up was quite bad from both party's I've apologised tried to be as nice as possible but she still refused most likely it will go to court after her refusing mediation and contact centers, i know the cannabis wont help my case but it doesn't affect my day to day life or how I care for my child, i was just wondering what your opinion on my situation would be and if there's anything I could do?
seanp25 - 3-Jul-17 @ 4:47 PM
Shell - Your Question:
Not a father but a mam, can I tske my 5 yr old daughters dad to court and force him to have Contact with her? He lets her down so many times and I cant temember the last time he seen her, must be at least 7 weeks. He arranged with me and our daughter that he would pick her up from school one time.and never.i had to run down there 20 mins after school finished to pick my heartbroken daughter up. He rings now and again and tells her he'll pivk her up and she can sleep at his house but never shows, thetes alwsys some excuse.

Our Response:
You cannot force an unwilling parent to have contact with their child, neither would a court attempt to force this.
SeparatedDads - 8-May-17 @ 2:51 PM
Not a father but a mam, can i tske my 5 yr old daughters dad to court and force him to have Contact with her? He lets her down so many times and i cant temember the last time he seen her, must be at least 7 weeks. He arranged with me and our daughter that he would pick her up from school one time...and never...i had to run down there 20 mins after school finished to pick my heartbroken daughter up. He rings now and again and tells her he'll pivk her up and she can sleep at his house but never shows, thetes alwsys some excuse.
Shell - 8-May-17 @ 12:17 AM
MissP - Your Question:
My son's child's mother passed away 4years ago. Every since the day of the funeral the maternal grandparent has been reluctant to allow my son to have a relationship with the child who will soon be 5. They live in another state. Our families are connected so on occasions they have come to our state. They don't stop? him from talking or holding the child but they keep close guard as if my son might take the child off. Which he might would but don't.Now the maternal grandmother has petition the court to have my son turn over his rights. According to reading if he doesn't have do so he's subject to pay for all the legal fees associated with their petition.We don't have money for a lawyer or any other legal representation but a family court date has been set for him to answer to the petition.What can we expect to take place and what is his rights.Thanks

Our Response:
I'm afraid US law is very different to UK family law. If you are based in the US, we cannot answer your question because UK laws don't apply.
SeparatedDads - 2-May-17 @ 12:50 PM
Mattblues90 - Your Question:
Looking for some advice please. My ex has stopped me from seeing my son. We have a very volatile past. I've never laid a finger on her but we've argued and the police have been called and me being charged with threatening behaviour. Anyhow that was a couple of years ago and things had been fine and we had moved forward with things. However my ex has met a new guy and informed me that I needed to contact courts in order to gain access to my son. She seemed to think that I wouldn't and I left her for a few weeks to calm down and tried talking to her but all of it fell on deaf ears. I've got a meeting with mediation on the it 8th of this month, she has no interest in turning up so what is the process after the meeting?

Our Response:
If your ex doesn't attend the meeting, then this will give you the green light to apply to court. If you have been seeing your son regularly up until recently and there have been no recent 'domestic; issues then the court is likely to reinstate access. Once the order is in place, both you and your ex will have to fully adhere to it.
SeparatedDads - 2-May-17 @ 12:12 PM
My son's child's mother passed away 4years ago. Every since the day of the funeral the maternal grandparent has been reluctant to allow my son to have a relationship with the child who will soon be 5. They live in another state. Our families are connected so on occasions they have come to our state. They don't stop? him from talking or holding the childbut they keep close guard as if my son might take the child off. Which he might would but don't. Now the maternal grandmother has petition the court to have my son turn over his rights. According to reading if he doesn't have do so he's subject to pay for all the legal fees associated with their petition. We don't have money for a lawyer or any other legal representation but a family court date has been set for him to answer to the petition. What can we expect to take place and what is his rights. Thanks
MissP - 1-May-17 @ 11:12 PM
Looking for some advice please. My ex has stopped me from seeing my son. We have a very volatile past. I've never laid a finger on her but we've argued and the police have been called and me being charged with threatening behaviour. Anyhow that was a couple of years ago and things had been fine and we had moved forward with things. However my ex has met a new guy and informed me that I needed to contact courts in order to gain access to my son. She seemed to think that I wouldn't and I left her for a few weeks to calm down and tried talking to her but all of it fell on deaf ears.I've got a meeting with mediation on the it 8th of this month, she has no interest in turning up so what is the process after the meeting?
Mattblues90 - 1-May-17 @ 7:35 PM
Went to court yesterday my ex wants to change my so surname amongst other things. Agreed too a few said no to others. Parental rights were never brought up before in any correspondents from either side so I never looked into it. I might add the represented myself incourt. Atthe interview before the court I was asked about giving up my parental rights, I asked what does that mean, she said that I would not be able to take my son out of school etc. So I said ok if it makes things easier. Will have to go back to court after my son is interviewed in 13 weeks. After I got home I looked up parental rights I was horrified to find out what I gave up. It's Saturday today as im writing this so can't do or call any solicitors until Monday. My question is does everything that happens in court naw in effect or can I go back to them and basically change my mind regarding parental rights. I have received any documents from the court after the hearing as yet. Help I don't now what is the right way out of the mess.
help - 4-Mar-17 @ 4:43 PM
Went to court yesterday my ex wants to change my so surname amongst other things. Agreed too a few said no to others. Parental rights were never brought up before in any correspondents from either side so I never looked into it. I might add the represented myself incourt. Atthe interview before the court I was asked about giving up my parental rights, I asked what does that mean, she said that I would not be able to take my son out of school etc. So I said ok if it makes things easier. Will have to go back to court after my son is interviewed in 13 weeks. After I got home I looked up parental rights I was horrified to find out what I gave up. It's Saturday today as im writing this so can't do or call any solicitors until Monday. My question is does everything that happens in court naw in effect or can I go back to them and basically change my mind regarding parental rights. I have received any documents from the court after the hearing as yet. Help I don't now what is the right way out of the mess.
help - 4-Mar-17 @ 4:41 PM
Hi I need some advice so i have a 4 month old daughter i havent been with my ex partner since the beginning of pregnancy i found out when i got pregnant he had taken cocain he addmitted this to me and he got very nasty from then he didnt contact me through my pregnancy untill i was 6 months pregnant where he demanded a letter to state i was living with him saying it was to help him move i refused as i wasnt prepared to lie my daughter was born and i said to him to come to my family home near enough everyday for the first 2 weeks he came for an hour he held her but never fed or changed her hos behaviour started to show signs of aggression and the same signs as when i left and he was taking drugs he fell asleep on my daughter on the sofa to which i asked him to leave and return when he was more fit and not so tired He then stopped messaging me again which i said he should or could do everydayto ask the welfare of our daughter he went missing from here for 2 weeks then demanded for me to visit his home because i wanted to do the right thing i went upon arrival his flat was terribly unhygenic the dog had messed on the sofa it and i found a needle with red liquid to which he said was vitamin b shots he verbally abused me and got very nasty whilst holding the baby so i said i wouldnt go again and in the best interest of our daughter contact should remain at my home as this wasnt suitable for a baby. His dog also has attacked another dog unprovoked and i cannot take that risk he demanded we visit his family which i had no problem with but asked it it could be a week or 2 after he asked as i just had our baby and was going through some complications after birth in the end we went and he fell asleep at the wheel with me and my children in the car. He has refused to see my daughter in nearly 10 weeks now and given up messaging hes never contributed with milk nappies etc and ive never asked for money but 2 weeks ago recieved an email saying he is taking me to court this is so stressful and i dont no what to do i also found questionable documents which seem to be fraudulent he has written in the email i have stopped his family seeing the baby this isnt true and have planned to meet with them yhis week we dont live in close distance upon agreement he isnt there as our relationship should remain seperate to keep it healthy his mother is a social worker and is abusing her position by using her legal status to help him what do i do please help? He has no experience with children ive offered to show how to make bottles change nappies etc but he has no interest its been 10 weeks now hes been absent what do i do i spoke to a solicitor who said i shouldnt do anything Any advice would be appriciated
J88 - 15-Feb-17 @ 8:59 PM
Bubba Bear - Your Question:
Hi there , my son is now 3 years old and I've not been with his mother since his birth. I've had sporadic access until a year ago. I was then granted to see him every Sunday for 8 hours.after 8 months my access was abruptly stopped with out any notification. It has come to my knowledge that she believes that I'm incapable of looking after him. He has never gone home , unfed, dirty , distressed.When I took him out with my new partner and her child ,we always went somewhere exciting for the children. As time went by certain comments were thrown at me saying she was not happy.Come last October I received a text message saying I'll never see him again.So I have just filed a C100 and want to know what happens next as I am doing this on my own back as I can not afford a solicitor even though I'm in full time employment.Can any body please give me a bit of idea or help of what I should expect ,as I know she will ignore all correspondence.Cheers

Our Response:
Please see link here which will give you more information, along with all our other pages which are designed to help. You may also wish to register with our forum, where dads will help you answer specific questions. I hope this helps.
SeparatedDads - 9-Feb-17 @ 2:41 PM
Hi there , my son is now 3 years old and I've not been with his mother since his birth. I've had sporadic access until a year ago. . I was then granted to see him every Sunday for 8 hours...after 8 months my access was abruptly stopped with out any notification. . . It has come to my knowledge that she believes that I'm incapable of looking after him . . He has never gone home , unfed, dirty , distressed.. When I took him out with my new partner and her child ,we always went somewhere exciting for the children . As time went by certain comments were thrown at me saying she was not happy. Come last October I received a text message saying I'll never see him again... So I have just filed a C100 and want to know what happens next as I am doing this on my own back as I can not afford a solicitor even though I'm in full time employment. Can any body please give me a bit of idea or help of what I should expect ,as I know she will ignore all correspondence. Cheers
Bubba Bear - 8-Feb-17 @ 9:48 PM
moremilkdaddy - Your Question:
Hi, I dont know where my ex has moved to. she told a court previously that she has no problem with me seeing the kids. since I was there from birth and have a strong bond, however. she finds any issue to stop me once the butter melts we all suffer!!! how do I go about getting her to court? will the court do this work for me? thanks. spidermans dad:)

Our Response:
You can apply via a C100 form for contact and also fill in a C4 form which is an application to the courts for a disclose for a child's wherabouts. This means the courts can put a trace on your child to allow you to bring the matter to court for access.
SeparatedDads - 31-Jan-17 @ 12:10 PM
hi, i dont know where my ex has moved to. she told a court previously that she has no problem with me seeing the kids. since i was there from birth and have a strong bond, however. she finds any issue to stop me once the butter melts we all suffer!!! how do i go about getting her to court? will the court do this work for me? thanks... spidermans dad:)
moremilkdaddy - 30-Jan-17 @ 5:58 PM
ccc - Your Question:
I am attending the first court hearing Feb 2nd for my daughter who I have never seen. She is 4 months old and the mother cut all contact after leaving without reason or explanation when pregnant. Cafcass called today and it all seemed quite positive.the mother did not answer her Cafcass call. She has refused mediation and cut all contact. Cafcass mentioned that I may only get to see my baby for a couple of hours alongside my family initially. Anyone have any experience of this? How long did this last? When will I get my requested time with her? There is no violence, dodgy pasts etc cafcass have told me I came up clean as a whistle. Any help greatly appreciated!

Our Response:
I am sorry to hear this. I will put your post on our Separated Dads Facebook page to see if any of the other dads can help you with advice, as many have been through the same or similar situations. Please refer to the Separated Dads Facebook page for your answers. I hope they help.
SeparatedDads - 18-Jan-17 @ 12:23 PM
I am attending the first court hearing Feb 2nd for my daughter who I have never seen. She is 4 months old and the mother cut all contact after leaving without reason or explanation when pregnant. Cafcass called today and it all seemed quite positive...the mother did not answer her Cafcass call. She has refused mediation and cut all contact. Cafcass mentioned that I may only get to see my baby for a couple of hours alongside my family initially. Anyone have any experience of this? How long did this last? When will I get my requested time with her? There is no violence, dodgy pasts etc cafcass have told me I came up clean as a whistle. Any help greatly appreciated!
ccc - 17-Jan-17 @ 8:46 PM
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