Family Law

The workings of the Family Court.

Family Law

Family law deals with a wide range of issues relating to the family, including marriage, separation, divorce and its implications, such as the division of matrimonial assets, maintenance and the arrangements for children. These issues are generally dealt with in the Family Court. There is now a single family court for each geographical area, and the old family proceedings and family county courts are no more. Cases are heard by magistrates, district and other judges of all levels in the same building.


The overriding objectives of the Family Court

The Family Court has an overriding objective of dealing with cases justly having regard to any welfare issues involved.

So far as is practicable, dealing with a case justly includes,

(a) ensuring that it is dealt with expeditiously and fairly;

(b) dealing with the case in ways which are proportionate to the nature, importance and complexity of the issues;

(c) ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing;

(d) saving expense; and

(e) allotting to it an appropriate share of the court’s resources, while taking into account the need to allot resources to other cases.

The court must seek to give effect to the overriding objective when it exercises it powers and the parties to a case are required to help the court to further these overriding objectives.

The court must further the overriding objective by actively managing cases and

(a) setting timetables or otherwise controlling the progress of the case;

(b) identifying at an early stage–

(i) the issues;and

(ii) who should be a party to the proceedings;

(c) deciding promptly –

(i) which issues need full investigation and hearing and which do not; and

(ii) the procedure to be followed in the case;

(d) deciding the order in which issues are to be resolved;

(e) controlling the use of expert evidence;

(f) encouraging the parties to use a non-court dispute resolution procedure if the court considers that appropriate and facilitating the use of such procedure;

(g) helping the parties to settle the whole or part of the case;

(h) encouraging the parties to co-operate with each other in the conduct of proceedings;

(i) considering whether the likely benefits of taking a particular step justify the cost of taking it;

(j) dealing with as many aspects of the case as it can on the same occasion;

(k) dealing with the case without the parties needing to attend at court;

(l) making use of technology; and

(m) giving directions to ensure that the case proceeds quickly and efficiently.


Acting for yourself in Family Proceedings

Legal aid for private family cases has been all but removed and it is now the norm for parties to represent themselves before the court. The exceptions are in child protection cases, where domestic violence is shown, and to assist parties to reach an agreement through mediation.

In straightforward cases it is quite possible for most people to deal with a divorce or relationship breakdown themselves, but before making any decisions they should be aware of the legal position and their legal entitlements. In certain circumstances, however, legal help and advice may be necessary. This will be especially the case:

  • where the matrimonial assets are substantial, and include pension rights, a business etc;
  • where it is suspected that your spouse is hiding and not disclosing assets;
  • where domestic violence makes direct discussion impossible;
  • where there is domestic violence and an application to the court may be necessary for your protection.

There is one firm principle when a relationship breaks down. That is to try and agree everything with your spouse or partner beforehand. If you need help doing this, consider mediation. The alternatives to not agreeing everything can be expense, delay and bad feelings.

The first thing to think about should always be the children. What arrangements are to be made for their future care and how are they to be protected and reassured when their parents break up. Divorce and separation does not affect parental rights and obligations, and it is only when parents cannot agree the arrangements that the court will need to make an order. Our Children pages have comprehensive further information including on he Child Arrangements Programme where child arrangement orders are made replacing the old system of residence and contact orders.

The intention is to make the court the process of last resort and encourage parties to resolve issues themselves outside of court proceedings. There is therefore a requirement of compulsory attendance at a mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs) prior to court proceedings being issues in children and financial cases.


If you are married, there are three separate but connected things to deal with and try to agree:

  • the divorce. This is fully dealt with in our Divorce section.
  • money and property. How this is to be divided and whether a clean break is appropriate. Can a consent order be obtained? This is covered in our financial settlements on divorce section.
  • the children. We have a separate section dealing with issues relating to children on divorce and separation.

If you are not married, all you have to do once you have sorted out money and property matters and made arrangements for the children is separate.


Our Family Law section explains the interaction between the law in England and Wales and family relationships. It explains the role of the law and how it can assist when problems arise within a family. There are sections on dissolving a marriage, resolving property and financial issues when a marriage or civil partnership breaks down, and how the law relates to those who live together without marrying. Disputes and issues relating to children are dealt with, and you will also find here information on domestic-violence. There are family agreements to download including pre-nuptial, separation agreements and cohabitation agreements.

We have a collection of e-books and law guides to download, ranging from Divorce without Court to Making a Parenting Agreement, and including comprehensive guides to the Divorce Law and Procedure and how the court deals with disputes over children.


Family Law Articles

Domestic violence

What is considered Domestic Violence Domestic violence is violence against a person by another person with whom that person is, or has been, in a domestic relationship. It can include: physical abuse such as slapping pushing and any physical sought sexual abuse...

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Separation agreements

The purpose of a separation agreement The purpose of a separation agreement is to make absolutely clear what was agreed by spouses when they decided to live apart. This prevents future disputes and arguments. The terms agreed in a separation agreement will always be...

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What You should expect from your Lawyer

A lawyer is a professional person from whom you are entitled to a quality service. You should be able to expect at the very least the following from him or her Competence. There will never be a guarantee that your lawyer will win your case or succeed in obtaining your...

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Consent Orders

Consent Order A consent order (purchase here) is an order of the court in terms which the parties have agreed and asked the court to give legal affect. It can be applied for on divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership when financial issues are agreed between the...

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Dividing Property Yourself on Divorce

For most couples, splitting up your possessions is a big part of the process of getting divorced. The best way is for you and your spouse to sit down and decide together who gets what.  If you can't do that a judge will have to...

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Financial Settlements on Divorce

Financial Settlement Issuing a divorce petition will only result in having the marriage dissolved. The divorce action commenced with the filing of the divorce petition does not enable the court to decide financial matters which are separate and ancillary to the...

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Prohibited Steps & Specific Issues Orders

Prohibited Steps and Specific Issues Orders A Prohibited Steps Order enables a Court to place a specific prohibition upon the exercise of parent’s parental responsibility. The Order could be used, to prevent removal of the child from the country, removal of the child...

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Residence Orders for Children

The Family Court no longer make what used to be known as residence orders. Decisions as to with whom a child is to live will be made by way of an all embracing child arrangements order.  This has the same purpose of 'settling the arrangements ... as to the person with...

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Children’s contact with absent parent

The Family Court no longer make what used to be known as contact orders. Decisions as to time spent with a non-resident parent will be made by way of an all embracing child arrangements order. A Child Arrangements Order will be made directed at the person with whom a...

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The wishes of the child

An application by a parent for a child arrangements or other Children Act order will very often involve a difficult balancing act by the court. It can be a delicately weighed exercise for the judge who must make the decision and this will be particularly the case when...

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Special Guardians

Special guardianship is a legal option intended to provide permanence for children for whom adoption is not appropriate. It was introduced in the Adoption and Children Act 2002. A special guardianship order (SGO) gives the special guardian parental responsibility for...

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Children and Grandparents

The courts have long accepted that grandparents have an important role to play in the upbringing of children. Perhaps unfortunately however the Children Act 1989 does not give any particular contact rights or recognition to grandparents. The Act places every emphasis...

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