What is Family Court?
Although many believe that family courts are used to decide divorce, that’s not the case – those hearings take place elsewhere. Family courts exist to settle issues regarding children. If you have to go to family court as part of divorce proceedings it will probably be to decide issues of Residence and Contact about the children of the union. Family courts don’t deal with money and child support, either – that’s all handled through the Child Support Agency.
Who Uses Family Court?Divorcing parents will use family court when issues regarding Residence and Contact can’t be resolved be mediation. In that case it will be the Court that will issue the final orders determining Residence and Contact.
Social services will also use family court when necessary, if they need to apply for a care order, an emergency protection order, a secure accommodation order or a supervision order. In these cases they will work in the best interests of the child, but there will always be a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service worker in attendance to offer advice to the Court so its decisions are in the child’s best interests.
Who Can be There?Apart from those involved directly in the proceedings, such as family members, legal counsel, and support workers, the court is essentially closed. Most certainly members of the public are barred from the court (unlike criminal trials, this isn’t a spectator sport) and members of the media do not attend, although they can under some circumstances, but in any reporting the names of those in court must be anonymous.
Looking After Children in Family CourtThe Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service looks after the interests of children in family court, and performs the job in several ways. They can be children’s guardians, offering advice and even appointing a solicitor to represent the children involved after spending an extended period with both the children and family.
In divorce cases they’ll often function as family reporters, and in that role they’ll offer advice to the court on Residence and Contact, i.e. the housing for the child – who he will live with - and when the father can see the child.
Solicitors in Family CourtSolicitors can be involved in the mediation process and will negotiate on behalf of each parent regarding Residence and Contact. But solicitors can represent the interests of each party in family court. It’s most important to remember, though, that the court will make the final decision, and will weight the interests of the child or children above all, which is why CAFCASS can appoint a solicitor to represent them in the court, ensuring their voice is heard properly.
Conducting Yourself in Family CourtFamily court is part of the law process. It might seem less formal than the kind of jury trials shown on TV, but it’s a court nonetheless. That means you have to act with decorum and respect for both the process and the judge. Your divorce doesn’t matter here, it’s all about the children, their housing and the visitation rights.
Dress appropriately for the occasion. If you have a solicitor, listen to what he or she tells you. Don’t let yourself be goaded into outbursts in court; it won’t help your case at all. Above all, ensure your case is well prepared before you even enter the courtroom.