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 usually a last resort to resolve family disputes. Usually, before you go to the Family Court with a dispute about children, you need to have tried to resolve the dispute between yourselves with the help of the Family Dispute Resolution process (see below).
The person who applies to the court must usually have attended a Parenting Through Separation course too (see: “‘Parenting Through Separation’ courses”).
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 (see: “How the court process works in Parenting Order cases”).
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”.
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 wellbeing and best interests (see: “The court hearing: How the judge decides what to do”).
The interests of children are also taken into account in other family cases, such as disputes about relationship property (see: “Relationships and break-ups”).
Who can go to a Family Court hearing?
The Family Court is not open to the public. The only people allowed to attend court hearings are people involved in the case, including:
- the judge and other court officials
- the parents, guardians or other people who are directly involved in the case (“the parties”)
- the lawyers for the people involved including a lawyer for the child if they have been appointed one
- any witnesses and any support people (if the judge allows them to be there).
Children don’t usually attend court hearings. A judge may allow a child to attend 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.
During a hearing, the judge can exclude anyone from attending a hearing, or ask anyone to leave the hearing, including the news media.