This Factsheet answers some of the questions you might have about a court hearing in a private law children case. These are cases between private individuals (parents, grandparents etc): it does not cover public law children cases which is when local authorities are involved.
What court hearings does this Factsheet cover?
When you submit an application related to children the court will hold a gatekeeping meeting to decide what level of judge needs to hear your application and when the first hearing will be. You don’t attend gatekeeping meetings. This Factsheet helps you to prepare for the following hearings that you will be expected to attend:
First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA) – the court will want to know what you and the other party agree about and where you disagree. They will try to help you reach agreement about some or all of the areas that you disagree about.
Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) – the court will try to progress particular areas where you and the other party disagree.
Fact Finding Hearing – this might be necessary if you or the other party make allegations of abuse.
Final Hearing – a judge hears all the evidence and reaches a decision.
A few quick pointers
Prepare for your hearing – make some notes of the important points and what you want to bring to the court’s attention. Write a summary of what you’d like the court to order and why this is best for your child.
If you need an interpreter then let the court know – you should call or email the court at least one week before your hearing. You can call Chelmsford Family Court on 0344 892 4000 (open 9am – 5pm) and email them on email@example.com.
Your surroundings for phone or video hearings – you should be in a quiet room on your own. If you want to have someone with you then you must get the court’s permission for this before the hearing.
What to wear – Dress smartly but don’t buy a suit especially. Don’t wear a hat or cap.
Addressing the judge – you call the judge Sir or Madam. If they want you to call them anything different they will let you know.
If you are the applicant then remember that it’s your case – you will need to say what it is that you want and why that’s best for your child(ren). The judge will help but you must progress your case.
Be polite to the judge and the other party – speak to the judge, don’t argue with the judge and don’t interrupt the judge or the other party. If you want to respond then put your hand up.
Ask if there’s anything you don’t understand – e.g. legal terms or what the judge asks you do.
If you attend the hearing on your phone then make sure you have enough credit – hearings can last up to two hours so make sure your phone is fully charged and that you have enough credit for your hearing.
Where can I find out more about what will happen at my hearing?
The organisation AdviceNow produce lots of helpful information about going to court in different situations: see https://www.advicenow.org.uk/. They have a guide called ”Going to court when the other side has a solicitor and you don’t”, available at https://www.advicenow.org.uk/guides/when-other-side-has-lawyer-guide-litigants-person-0. They also have a film called “Representing Yourself in Family Court”, available at https://www.advicenow.org.uk/guides/representing-yourself-family-court-film.
A family barrister called Lucy Reed has written a book called “The Family Court Without a Lawyer” which contains lots of useful information. She has also made three short videos called “The Family Court Without a Lawyer”. The first video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgAVMahol7Y and has links to the second and third videos.
What about court hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Family court hearings are still taking place during the pandemic. However, many hearings now take place by phone or by video. The court will send you instructions about how your case will take place. AdviceNow has produced a guide called “Court and Tribunal hearing during Coronavirus (Covid-19)” available at https://www.advicenow.org.uk/know-hows/court-and-tribunal-hearings-and-coronavirus-covid-19. This covers remote hearings taking place by phone or video.
There is also a guide and video produced by gov.uk called “What to expect when joining a telephone or video hearing” available at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/what-to-expect-when-joining-a-telephone-or-video-hearing. Make sure the court has your correct up-to-date telephone number.
Where to go for further information
If you need help about going to the family court you can:
- Contact Suffolk Law Centre (see details below), or
- Check the AdviceNow website at https://www.advicenow.org.uk/.
This Factsheet is not legal advice
Please remember that this factsheet gives general legal information. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information is correct, this cannot be guaranteed. It is not a substitute for legal advice. You should always seek legal advice for a legal matter.
This Factsheet was updated on 09 September 2021.
How to contact Suffolk Law Centre
Address: 46a St. Matthews Street, Ipswich, Suffolk IP1 3EP.
Telephone: (01473) 408111