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Guide to Court 2: Skeleton Argument & Character References

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 21 Dec 2022 | comments*Discuss
Court Guide Skeleton Argument Document

Our going to court guide is in 3 parts. You can download the entire guide (see below) or you can read it here it on the site. Part two of the guide explains how to construct a good skeleton argument, the formatting and submission requirements and using character references. Here is part 1 of the guide to court if you haven't already read it.

Skeleton arguments

Skeleton arguments are used in contested hearings, interim applications and final hearings. They will also be required in appeals. They will usually be prepared by your solicitor or counsel, but you may have to draft one if you represent yourself.

A skeleton argument is a document which sets out an outline of your case for the court. It will briefly outline what the case is about and give a summary of your case. It does not set out arguments in full detail as you will expand upon this summary of your points during the hearing.

It may help to think of your case like a shopping list:

  • Main point of case = fruit
  • Summary of arguments = apples

You would not put in your list “pink lady apples of medium firmness, approximately 4 large sized”. This detail would be added in orally to anyone helping pick the item.

Keep your skeleton argument brief. This is a summary which you will flesh out orally in court. The skeleton should only be a few pages long (not a short novel).

What to put in your skeleton argument...

1) Introduction

  • What the application is for
  • A brief introduction to the parties
  • A brief introduction to the case topic
  • Reference to the governing law and procedure
  • A list of documents referred to
  • A chronology (if it would assist the court)

In your introduction state exactly what the case is about (e.g. Residence Order under S.8 Children Act 1989)

Explain who the parties are (giving their full names) and explain briefly what the two sides of the argument are (e.g. The mother wants the children to live with her full-time. The father wants joint custody.)

In referencing the law, explain any relevant statutory test. Most orders have a legal test which must be satisfied and so this test should be stated for the court.

For example, the test for a prohibitory interim injunction is:

  • a) Is there a serious issue to be tried?
  • b) Are damages adequate to compensate the Claimant?
  • c) Where does the balance of convenience lie?

You may also wish to rely on a recent court case with similar facts. If so this case should be stated with its full citation. (e.g. Silver Fox Farm v. Emmet [1936] 1 All ER 825) You should use the most recent case you can find as the law and inclination of the courts changes over time. Make sure any case you use has not been successfully appealed in a higher court.

In your reading list include any statutes or cases used in chronological order. You should also list any case documents you will rely on as evidence for your points.

A chronology should be used where there are lots of dates for the court to consider. If dates of matters are not especially relevant to your case or there are only a couple of relevant dates to remember, you may choose to miss out this part of your introduction as it will not materially help the court.

Remember that your introduction is there to help the judge understand the point of your case and what you want. The better the judge understands your case, the more likely they are to follow your points.

2) State issues in the case

Explain the main issues in the case. These are the points that the judge will need to decide in order to make a decision on your application.

3) Set out your points

It is often helpful to set out your points in paragraphs under each limb of the test. This helps focus your points and show the judge how your points help fulfil a particular limb of the test.

For each point you make, put in brackets afterwards the document containing the evidence supporting it and where any relevant part may be found in that document. You may use abbreviations to identify the arguments if you gave that abbreviation in your reading list.(e.g. [DP para2] may refer the judge to paragraph two of a statement made by Joe Bloggs.)

4) Conclusion

Finally state what it is you want the court to do.(e.g. For the above reasons the court should award joint custody of the children.)


There are some rules when it comes to formatting your skeleton argument:
  • The skeleton must be typed
  • The font must be Times New Roman, size 12
  • The margins must be set to 2.5cm so that it can be bound in a bundle without any text being covered
  • The line spacing must be at 1.5
  • All paragraphs should be numbered for ease of reference

Using character references

Courts consider character references in criminal cases to determine the nature of the person before them and ultimately help them pass a sentence on them. In civil cases, the courts may also consider character references in order to decide whether an action was out of character for an individual or assess their commitment to their children etc.

Your character reference should support points you are making and so directly address those points, e.g. commitment to children by regularly taking them to, and picking them up from several extra-curricular activities.

Useful tips for what referees should include in your reference

  • Address to the judge directly (if known) or to the relevant court
  • State how you know the person you are writing the reference for and how long you have known them
  • Any positive attributes you can attest to
  • Any activities of the person you wish to draw to the court’s attention
  • The likely effect on the person of the order being or not being granted
  • Only state the truth (it is an offence to mislead the court and will likely damage the person’s case)
  • Sign and date your reference
  • If possible put the reference on letter-headed paper

There is no restriction on the number of character references you can obtain or should use. It is however generally better to get as many references as possible so that you can pick out the best ones to use to support your points.

Don’t try to overly rely on character references though; your character is only one consideration of the court. Try to balance your character references with reliance on case law too.

Read part 3 of our going to court guides.

We know that some of the dads on here don't have much spare cash. So we are offering the downloadable guides for free.

To help us develop more guides and other products to help separated dads we would really appreciate a small PayPal donation. Our content is written by a qualified barrister. It would really help us and we would appreciate it.

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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cindybyrd - 21-Dec-22 @ 8:05 AM
I'm a single mom to a 9 yr old daughter. My ex and I had joint legal and I had primary residential custody. In jan 2021 I received an emergency TRO that also included a no contact with our child. I was given temp sole custody. I fled to another state shortly after for safety and support from family.I was granted the Final restraining order 10.2021. He still can not visit/see/or have any contact with our child. Can I acquire home state jurisdiction in the state i fled to?
Evie - 9-Mar-22 @ 4:33 PM
I don't know if you can help me with my big problem. social services have been involved with me for over 30 years. I was abused by those people that social services passed as been the best people to care for me while my parents couldn't. I have grown up since the abuse and have been out of care for approx 13 years now. I have had therapy for what i suffered as a child 11 years ago.. but the social services are continuing to blame me for the abuse i suffered and are now removing my babies from my care. they are painting me with the same brush, they have stated because i was abused i will go on to abuse my own, they are not giving me a clean slate I had my first child 2 years after the therapy and tit stated in their that a child would not suffer whilst in my care. I have asked for this evidence to be put forward to the court so they can see the progress i have made since coming out of care. I am suffering badly because of others actions towards me, i have severe depression and anxiety because of the way social services are treating me. my son who is 9 months old was removed at birth because of this. they approved for a carer to look after him while i am not allowed to, he suffered a serious head injury when he was three months old. the court has agreed that he should go for adoption but i am fighting with all my might to get him home to me where he is safe. I cry myself to sleep at night because of the worry, I do not go out anywhere because of the fear of people judging me and i feel that they know what is going on. I am being badly affected by this. what can i do?
Piglet - 2-Feb-18 @ 1:29 PM
Had a non molestation issued against me don't know what to do. It all started with my wife assaulting me, she got arrested, I tried to get indoors father in law stopped me. I get a non molestation order for past events which I am not proud of at all. But I am losy got court on the 3rd Jan don't know how to complete my arguments against this.
loulam717 - 23-Dec-16 @ 10:09 PM
My children were given to me after my ex partner tried to kill herself. I have had them for past 3 month which even though social service are sort of involved they haven't really been any real help. I haven't at no point stop my ex partner from see our children and really only want her to get the help she needs. Since having my children over the last two weeks she has made lots of false allegations of demestic violence and has had me arrested which after the police interview me and listen to my side and saw her lies they listed it as NFA With no future action. However my ex partner has now used that police reference and has taken that to court as well as lots of other lying allegation statement to have a non molistation order issued agents me and in this order the judge has said that I'm to hand my children over by 3pm tomorrow to someone they don't have a relationship with her step mother who abused her as a child...my ex partner knows that as long as our children are not place with her social service don't have concerns but she trying to take them away from me based on lying to the courts to obtain this order... Pls help as I don't know or understand what I can and need to do to stop her...
Sad1627 - 2-Nov-16 @ 1:05 AM
all interesting stuff, i was split from my family, wife had plenty false alegations and secure legal aid, takes my children & house 6 month later judge says i need to be re introduced to children, refer to NCACC who did a fantastic job, they show wife was alienating the children in a big way, in court judge dismissed the cafcass report & the NACC reports too, my brief said the judge in this case had desided the outcome a year ago, and all thois with Cafcass was just a formality,love to know what is happening, family court is opperated bylawyers and failed lawyers too, it may take me a few years to put the pieces into place but i will do and then i will take on the courts directly
Victim - 24-Jul-16 @ 7:03 PM
I am confused at this point how to Reference to the governing law and procedure.You suggest " In referencing the law, explain any relevant statutory test. Most orders have a legal test which must be satisfied and so this test should be stated for the court"We are applying for a Prohibited Steps Order to stop the mother moving the children a considerable distance away (going against the court order) so that they will change schools, move house and stop the regular contact with the children's father. I have no idea what any relevant statutory test or legal test is. Please can someone help!?Thank you.
Almika - 16-Aug-15 @ 11:46 AM
@crconfused - hard to say as I don't know the background- but if you think they will support your case and you think you'd feel better having them as a back up, then go for it, you have nothing to lose by it.
gerry - 13-Oct-14 @ 1:55 PM
I have broached the suggestion of character references to my Solicitor with regard to child arrangements with my toddler child and he seems quite dismissive about the weight they carry. How applicable would you consider character references to a case like this, given no significant DV issues?
crconfused - 12-Oct-14 @ 5:00 PM
Thanks for this article , I have bike a case with my ex wife On my own regards accessto my son. I have done everything in reference to this article , thanks very much. , I am. Still going on with the outlined procedure stated in this article. , thanks
king - 12-Oct-14 @ 3:51 PM
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