How to prepare for the family court25/04/2023
In a lot of cases, parties are able to reach agreement without the need to refer their matter to the court. This may be achieved by direct discussions between the parties, negotiations between solicitors or mediation.
However, in some cases, agreement may not be possible and there may be no other option than to make an application to the family court.
In these cases, most people have never been inside a court before and a requirement to attend the family court can often feel daunting and unsettling.
If court proceedings do have to be issued it is important to discuss the application and different stages of the proceedings with your representative at a very early stage so that the process and what it entails is clear.
There are several types of family court hearings depending on the type of application that has been made and the stage of the proceedings. Each hearing within the process can be dealt with differently.
Some hearings may be dealt with in person requiring all parties to attend the court with the judge, or, they may be via telephone with all parties and representatives joining a telephone conference with the judge.
Below are some commonly asked questions by clients when preparing to attend a hearing in person at the family court.
Where do I need to go?
You will receive a hearing notice that specifies the date and time of the hearing. The notice will also specify the name and address of the court that you are required to attend. It is important to check this carefully and not assume the court that you need to go to – if you have more than one hearing, they may not always be at the same court.
What time do I need to arrive?
If we are representing you we will discuss with you and agree a time to meet at court. Usually this will be one hour before the hearing starts. It is advisable to arrive in good time as you will need to go through a security check (like at an airport) and then find where you need to be.
Can I take somebody with me?
It is possible to have a friend or family member with you for moral support but they will not be permitted into the hearing itself.
What should I wear?
There are no rules on what you should wear to court, but it is advised that you dress smartly.
Will I see my ex-partner?
On arrival at court there are private conference rooms available so that you can sit and wait for your hearing without having to see your ex-partner if you don’t want to. All parties will go into the court room when the hearing takes place. If you are particularly concerned about this you should talk to your representative to discuss the layout of the room and how you will enter and exit the room to avoid contact with your ex-partner and to try to make you feel more comfortable.
Do I have to speak?
Unless the hearing is a final hearing or a fact-finding hearing it is usually your representative that will speak on your behalf. In a fact-finding hearing or a final hearing, you will be required to give evidence. If you are not giving evidence and you have not been expressly invited to speak, it is advisable not to! It can be tempting to have your say, especially if the other party or their representative it is saying something that you do not agree with, but you should refrain.
How do I address the judge?
District judges should be addressed as Sir, Madam or Judge.
How long will it last?
This will depend on the type of hearing. Usually, the notice of hearing will give a time estimate for the hearing but be prepared for the hearing to be delayed or to run on longer than anticipated, just in case.
What do I say if I have to give evidence?
If you have to give evidence at a hearing it is important to have re-read your written evidence before the court in advance and also the evidence of the other party so that you are clear on their case.
It is important to stay as calm and relaxed as possible, making sure that you listen carefully to the question that is being asked and stick to answering it. Take your time, make sure you understand the question and respond positively and directly to the judge. Try to stay focused and polite and avoid being rude or aggressive which can sometimes be harder than it may seem, particularly if you are being asked difficult questions. Be helpful to the judge by giving a full answer whilst also trying not to go off on a tangent.
What happens after the hearing?
An order will be made at the conclusion of the hearing. If it is not a final hearing, the order will set out what must be done next and will make provision for the next hearing.
After the hearing your representative should explain what happened and why and the next steps.