The Family Court

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 thus 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.

 

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