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Creating a Skeleton Argument for Court

By: Elizabeth Mugan BA/BSc, PGDipLaw, BVC, CIArb - Updated: 22 Dec 2023 |
Skeleton Argument Counsel Solicitor

A skeleton argument is a document produced for the court. It is most usually produced as a means of presenting the skeleton or “bare bones” of a case before a trial. This gives the judge a brief synopsis of the relevant matters for the court to consider and also outlines both the agreed and disagreed issues between the parties. The detail of the arguments is heard before the court, orally during the trial or hearing.

When might you need to use one?

Skeleton arguments are usually prepared for interim applications, contested hearings, final hearings and appeals. These will be prepared by a solicitor or barrister if you are legally represented. If, however, you are a litigant in person, then you might need to draft one yourself.

What should be included in a skeleton argument?

There is not a strict formula for a good skeleton argument but it would normally include the following:

1. Set out the nature of the submissions i.e. your case

The first section should include a summary of the order you are seeking and the Statute or Act the order falls under, for example, a residence order under s. 8 Children Act 1989.

2. State the background to the case

This should include a section of any relevant background to the case. This should only include information which is brief, concise and will assist the court. This section should also summarise what is agreed between the parties and what is disagreed e.g. “the mother wants this but the father wants this.”

An example might be: “The parents separated on [insert date]. At a hearing on [insert date] before [insert judge name] an order for contact in the interim was agreed. The mother's application for sole residence is not agreed.”

3. Set out the points of law and authority

This section should set out any legal authorities or precedents you are relying on in your submissions. This is usually case law, where a similar case has been before the courts and you can use the same case to support your own. You should use the most recent case law that you can find.

4. Make any submissions of fact

This section would provide a brief outline of your main arguments. You should refer to facts supported in the evidence. This may be witness statements, CAFCASS reports, welfare reports and anything which is relevant and relates to any of the issues put before the court.

The way to refer to a report in the court bundle, for example, would be [C136 para 4] for a report contained within Section C of the bundle, at page 136, paragraph 4.

5. Summary setting out precisely what the court is being asked to do

The summary should set out exactly what you want the court to do, or in other words, what you request the court orders to do. For a father asking the court to grant shared residence, this may be that the father wishes for the children to reside with him and the mother on alternate weekends and for him to have the children each Wednesday and Thursday overnight, plus for half of all of the holidays. This should be captured within the summary.

6. Reading list/cases

If there are any cases you are referring to within your submissions then it is wise to append a reading list and/or a copy of the cases to the skeleton. This helps to ensure that you make everything as easy as possible for the court. You should also, if possible, estimate the length of reading time that will be required. It is important to note that skeleton arguments do vary according to complexity of the issues.

Formatting, length, content and structure

There are a number of Practice Directions and guidelines in relation to formatting of the skeleton:

  • The font should be Times New Roman in size 12.
  • The line spacing should be set at 1.5, to make the text easier to read.
  • Paragraphs should be numbered so that they are easily referred to.
  • The left hand margin should be set to at least 2.5cm. When it is included into the court bundle, none of the text is covered when it is bound together.
  • Include page numbers in the top right hand corner of each page, to correspond with the page numbering in the court bundle. This will again, make it much easier to refer the court to when making submission. This can be done in pencil so that if something else needs to be inserted, the page numbers can be amended.


The skeleton should be as brief and concise as possible. Your submissions in the skeleton will be fleshed out when you are in court. It is not a substitute for oral argument. A skeleton should rarely exceed five pages. Use abbreviations where ever possible, but make sure that they can be understood by the court and the parties.

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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help my husband was arrested for arrears last night.yes yes i know but this has been a long tangled mess.at court 3pm today can’t speak to him, miles away, what’s likely to happen, he is on a suspended sentence and is only a couple of weeks behind due to late payment from his self employment
no idea - 22-Dec-23 @ 12:06 PM
Hi there my situation is really complex..I got a visa basis on my children ( genuine and subsisting parental relationships with British children) and my ex doesn't allow me to see my children ( twins ) and I took her to the court for child arrangement and she came up with a letter from marrige curtailment team ( I don't know why it has been referred to them because I'm not married to her or my visa isn't a spouse visa ) and that lettersays my visa been curtailed and judge says I can't see my children unless my immigration status is clear so any advise about what to do ( still have a live case which listed hearing is 8 that October?? Thank you
Zaza - 11-Sep-19 @ 9:02 AM
i wonder if you have someone who could re-write our bundle in the way it would be acceptable to the high court.HMRC have petioned for a forced bankruptcy to our client and finally HMRC granted for a forced bankruptcy; however, we requested for setting aside and it was allowed.the court is saying now to re-write the skeleton so we need someone to help us and represent on that day.
Mehari - 4-Jul-19 @ 5:05 PM
I had submitted Skeleton Arguments before appeal acceptance (form N161). Now judge wants me to submit Skeleton Argument with notice, their were no transcript of judgement before but now the judge has presented and in view of this transcript the judge wants to know if I want to continue. Can I make changes in Skeleton Arguments and re submit ? Please help urgently. Thanks.
Bread - 17-Jul-18 @ 2:58 PM
Rony - Your Question:
Good MorningI would be most grateful for a skeleton argument sample for a successful application for child contact.This follows an ex wife ignoring the courts by abusing a contact order & alienating my children.RegardsTony

Our Response:
We cannot give you help beyond the template which is designed to guide you through collating your argument for court yourself.
SeparatedDads - 26-Jul-16 @ 10:18 AM
Good Morning I would be most grateful for a skeleton argument sample for a successful application for child contact. This follows an ex wife ignoring the courts by abusing a contact order & alienating my children. Regards Tony
Rony - 25-Jul-16 @ 8:22 AM
Hi I've been in cort for the past 4 years over 20 cort hearings an order was made on January 2015 to support contact between me and my children.In November 2015 my ex partner did not like that I wald not give the kids to her over Christmas as it states they with my on the order. My ex partner stopped my contact despite there being a cort order in place. She put in a non mellestation order which was granted despite no evidence to support her claims.But has entitled her to legal aid.I've put in to court an enforcement order and a application to vary the order due to the manipulation and alienation to our children.There is a final hearing on 12/8/2016 I need help with how to put questions to my ex and social services in cort and what acts I can use in reference to cort
Burty - 22-Jul-16 @ 4:08 PM
@father4justice - In addition have included a link from the Bar Council - A Guide to Representing Yourself in Court here which should tell you what you need to know. I hope this helps.
SeparatedDads - 25-Jun-15 @ 12:53 PM
Hi im in court with my babys mum she raised dought to the court that im the father which is toatal lies to prolong the case out which will be back in court along with dna result in 5weeks ..my qwestion is as im repersenting my self can i crossexamine her to show her lies she is also is repersenting herself ??
father4justice - 23-Jun-15 @ 2:57 PM
@Raj - I am afraid we couldn't possibly comment on this, this is not a Separated Dads/family law issue and you would have to get legal advice.
SeparatedDads - 31-Mar-15 @ 12:36 PM
I have a case listed for trial in 2 months time after 4 years of struggle, then my lawyer advises that my case does not exceed 50% of merits, whereas previously he said my case had 55% merits. Now, upon his advice, my solicitor suggests that I should agree for a settlement offer instead of going for trial as they are trying to convince me that I will more probably lose at trial. They are suggesting me to agree an offer that may be worth 1 tenth of my compensation. Do you think there is something going on in the background that I don't know of, like my solicitor getting a personal financial gain by damaging my case? My case is described as follows: I was a nurse in charge of a night shift. when I started my shift, I realized that I should have one more staff to meet the clinical needs,: i.e: the shift was short staffed. I informed the responsible person but he did not remedy the problem. Further on, a direct seclusion check was due at 22.00 hrs, of which I informed him, but he stated that it had to be delayed due to shortage of staff and he had other priorities. He came for the direct seclusion check with one staff as response team while I requested for more staff, given the perceived risks of the agitated patient As he was aware that there were no more staff available, he took the lead for the check and stated that we should go in with the minimum required staff of 3, discounting my request for more staff. As there was a required minimum of 3 staff, I could not challenge him in the absence of an appropriate risk management care plan. In the course of the direct check, the patient became physically aggressive and had to be restrained. He overpowered us and violently pulled me down. I hit my head on the floor and also sustained a rotator cuff tear in my right shoulder. I sustained head injury following which I was diagnosed with bilateral subdural hematoma after 3 montfhs. 3 months later the hematoma became significantly large and lifethreatening that I had to undergo a burr hole surgery. Now, in defence, the responsible person states that minimum of 3 staff dealing with the patient was appropriate. He has three people in higher management position corroborating his evidence but stating that they have given a generalised statement as they were not there at time of incident, whereas statement should have been taken from the other 2 staff who were on duty and could give a true statement of facts. Following head injury I was knocked unconscious as stated by direct witness and I was not actually deem fit to stay on duty. The responsible person failed to provide first aid or medical attention or reportor escalate the facts of the incident to relevant parties for further actions. So, who is blame, what can I claim?
Raj - 29-Mar-15 @ 12:22 AM
Hi, I have been battling a 8 year case 2 years on my own when my solicitors dropped my case. I Have been fighting a hospital trust. I was left to give Birth on a 4 beded bay, I was a high risk patient being induced at 37 weeks due to pre-eclampsia. The care was terrible, I was exposed to all the relatives and the other people on the same bay, my son was left for 10-12 minutes has she prepared her papers, (the cover up) of notes, I then had to walk down a corridor and was totally exposed to all people on the ward. I had a serious nervour breakdown , my home was repossessed, Iost my 10 year relationship my career . I had 3 terminations. I was left with post traumatic stress. I need to do a skeleton of argumenets please could you help my trial is next monday
sj - 6-Nov-13 @ 9:04 AM
Hi I wish to ask for some advice, after a lengthy in and out of court battle, I have finally been granted a final order by the judge on wednesday just gone.first question is, My Husbands exs solicitor bought a barrister with her on the day, and stated she was busy??? but she remained in a interview with her client. John has never seen barrister befre and the case took well over 2 hours due to the barrister having to keep popping back to check on what his client wanted as on the second occassion now she has refused to come in to court if I am present, (his Wife) which the judge had granted.second question. we are having phased contact where by we use the local contact centre this is great and in a month they will be staying over for long weekends, through the cafcass report it has stated she is very hostile towards me, I ask wether or not other people have experienced this and if so whats the best way to keep yourself safe, as previously she grills the children on there return and then gets twisted and after 2 days of contact we have a solicitor letter, and contact stops. I saw all three yesterday the youngest was over the moon and she sated she loved me stil. the older two was fine aswell but there was definately no tension, so how do we stop the petty lies. Also the judge stated the we should have telephone contact as much as the children want and he does not like putting a schedule to it he belives its the choice of children, when we walked out of court the barrister went to see client and her solicitor, my hubby the tried to arrange the phone I had taken in to court to be transferred to mother so that they have a phone which the children can have access to in evenings perhaps. she has refused, and when we asked if we could call her number again she refused, the solicitor then said the barrister had gone and she didnt kjnow what was said as she was not in court??? so she said once she had spoke with the barrister she would speak with her client. since then I emailed the solicitor stating I wanted the swap of the phone to be sorted, to a reply I got I will forward to my client and be in touch. any advice greatly recieved
moomolly123 - 24-Jun-12 @ 8:50 AM
It would be useful to see an actual sample of a written skeleton used in a successful application for shared residence. More and more of us are handling our own cases. The reason we're in court, typically, is because of a mother exercising controlling behaviour. We need guidance on how this is successfully contested in court proceedings and how contact/residence time of our own is successfully gained legally during a contested hearing. The practical application of the law is of great interest to us. Where and how do we obtain all the relevant case law information and how do we decide which case precedent applies to our own or not.
Paul - 5-Nov-11 @ 1:21 AM
A skeleton argument is another weapon for the litigant in person LIP to get his own view across in court. It used to be the advice was 'never put anything in writing' but the downside is that you might not get the chance to say your piece. It is an opportunity to say what you want and why you want it. I would suggest that you include the GROUNDS or the reasons for your argument and possibly attach a CHRONOLOGY of the main events in the case. I hope this is helpful
Kip - 4-Nov-11 @ 9:24 PM
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