About the Family Court
The process in the Family Court
How does the court process work?
A Family Court hearing in front of a judge is used only as a last resort to resolve a family dispute.
Parents and guardians who take disputes about children to the Family Court are expected to have attempted to resolve the dispute themselves with the help of the Family Dispute Resolution process (see below in this section, “‘Family Dispute Resolution’: Mediation through the Family Court”). The person who applies to the court must usually also have attended a Parenting Through Separation course (see “‘Parenting Through Separation’ courses” in this chapter).
After you’ve applied to the Family Court, a judge will consider your application and decide what the next steps in your case should be (for more information, see “How the court process works in Parenting Order cases” in this chapter).
Can I get access to counselling or mediation through the Family Court?
The Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) mediation process is free if your income is below a certain amount. In some cases, you may also be offered some counselling before mediation begins (“preparatory counselling”). For more information see “‘Family Dispute Resolution’: Mediation through the Family Court” below.
Family Court Judges can also order free counselling in some Care of Children Act cases to improve the relationship between the two people or to encourage them to comply with any order or direction the court has given.
How does the Family Court make decisions?
In cases involving the care of children, the most important factor will be the child’s welfare and best interests. The Care of Children Act also sets out a number of other specific principles that have to be considered (see “The court hearing: How the judge decides what to do” in this chapter).
The interests of children are also taken into account in other family cases, such as disputes about relationship property (see the chapter “Relationships and break-ups”).
Is the Family Court open to the public?
Members of the public aren’t allowed to be in the Family Court. The only people allowed to attend court hearings are: the judge and other court officials; the parents, guardians or other people who are directly involved in the case (called “the parties”); the lawyers for the people involved; any witnesses; and any support people (if the judge allows them to be there).
Children rarely attend court hearings. A judge may permit a child to attend a particular part of a court hearing, but it would be very unusual for a child to be allowed to go to the whole hearing, as it’s unlikely this would be in their best interests.
In some circumstances, the media can attend a Family Court hearing, but they can’t publish any names or details that might identify anyone involved in the case, unless they get the judge’s permission to do this. At the moment, only accredited news media are allowed to attend hearings.
During a hearing, the judge can ask anyone to leave, or can exclude anyone from attending the hearing, including the news media.