FAQs

What’s the best way to contact you?

You can telephone us to ask about costs or to book an appointment, or you can email us.

Often it is better to email as you can then write a very brief sentence or two about your problem, for example ‘I need help with applying for finances in my divorce’, and we will be able to respond with the offer of an appointment and a fixed fee option for that first appointment.

We can normally offer an appointment for non urgent matters within a week, and for urgent matters usually within 24 hours.

Can I get legal advice from you on the phone?

We do not provide legal advice on the phone.

We prefer to meet with you, hear what your concerns are, what you hope to achieve and provide you with appropriate legal advice according to your  specific circumstances.  It is not always possible to do this on the phone.

I have been stopped from seeing my son who is 4 years old, can you help me see him?

Yes we can.

If you have already tried communicating and negotiating with the person who has care of the child, be that the other parent or someone else with parental responsibility, then your next option is to try mediation.  If that doesn’t work, then you will need to make an application to the court for a child arrangements order.

Sometimes it is possible for us to write a letter, on your behalf, to the other parent, asking them to negotiate visits.

My partner is taking all my money and doesn’t let me leave the house except to go to work, what can I do?

This is considered by the law to be abusive behaviour and you should seek assistance as soon as possible. You can report it to your GP or health visitor, or to the police.  We can assist you with making an application for a non molestation order and an occupation order where necessary.

I want to stop my ex partner having my child, can I do this?

It depends on the reasons you want to stop your partner seeing the child. If you have good reason, for example fear of abuse, abduction, inability of the other parent to care appropriately for the child or some similar valid concern, then you can prevent contact until such time as the other parent has corrected any issues or he or she makes an application to the court.

However, if you have no valid reason, you will simply be delaying the inevitable as once an application is made to the court and checks are carried out, the court will be very likely allow the parent to spend time with the child.

If you have genuine concerns about your child in the care of the other parent, then you ought to report the matter to social services and consider making your own applications to the court in order to protect the child.

How much will it cost me?

Unfortunately it is impossible to give a single figure for an abstract question as the ultimate cost of a case will depend on what has to happen once the case has started.

We can, however, provide you with fixed fee options for most of the work that we carry out, and in the vast majority of cases will be able to do this for each stage of your case.  For example, if you wish to have a single one hour advice appointment, we will fix the fee for this in children matters to £120 for the hour.

What actually happens when I apply for a child arrangements order?

Before you apply for a CAO you will need to complete a MIAM and have your C100 signed by the mediator, otherwise the court might reject your application, or at the first hearing, might adjourn so that you attend mediation first. It is best to follow each step before applying.

Once your application has been made, it goes through a process called gate-keeping, where a copy of your application will be sent to CAFCASS and a judge or legal adviser will look at the application and make a decision on whether your case will go before a lay bench (magistrates) or whether it will be listed before a deputy or district judge.  The court will then list a hearing in what is called the FHDRA list.

Family Courts hearing first hearings on the same day in the week (usually) and your case will be listed with other cases having their first hearing.  FHDRA stands for First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment.   Sometimes agreement can be reached at this hearing if both parties agree, but if not, the court will give some directions to the parties and perhaps to CAFCASS or the local authority and then re-list the matter for further hearing.

I am getting divorced, do I need representation?

Whether or not you need representation will depend on the complexities of your case. Many divorces are completed on the paperwork only and you will never need to attend court. However if there are finances involved, court hearings will be necessary and it is useful to have representation at the hearing, but it is not obligatory and you do not have to have a solicitor or barrister to represent you if you choose not to. In some circumstances, when we are asked for advice, we may strongly suggest given particularly situations that representation is very necessary, and in other situations we will advise that a client could probably manage all right by themselves.  It will ALWAYS depend on the specific individual circumstances of the client.

What is CAFCASS?

CAFCASS are Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Their role is to represent the children in family court cases, ensuring that the children’s best interests are served. CAFCASS are independent of the courts, social services and health authorities, but are a government agency.  Their task is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, give advice to the family courts, make provision for children to be represented where this is deemed necessary and to provide information, advice and support to children and their families.  CAFCASS are sent a copy of all applications to the court that relate to children and will undertake a safeguarding letter which they will present to the court at the FHDRA for the court to consider.

My ex is talking about moving abroad and taking my children, I don’t want them to go with her, what can I do?

If you fear that the children are going to be taken without your consent, you can apply to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent them being taken.

You will need to act promptly and make an urgent application to the court – any delay could mean that the children will have gone before the court hear your case, so it is imperative that you make an application immediately.

If your ex partner wishes to move abroad with the children and does not have your consent her only option is to apply to the court for a specific issues order.

I want to go on holiday with my children, but I am in the middle of a divorce. Can I still go?

Yes, if you have the consent of all those with parental responsibility. If you do not have the consent of all those with PR, then you will need to apply to the court for a specific issues order.

My partner is abusive towards me, how do I stop him from taking the children for visits?

If you have concerns that your partner will be abusive towards the children, you have the responsibility to protect them. You can stop contact immediately, but in order to ensure their safety, and your own where necessary, it would be advisable to make an urgent application to the court for a non molestation order and for a child arrangements order.  If you make an urgent application to the court, you do not need to attend a MIAM.

What is domestic violence?

There is a cross government definition of domestic violence and abuse which is

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse.’

 

What does shared custody mean?

There isn’t a legal term of ‘custody’ in relation to children anymore – it changed in 1992 to ‘residence’ and ‘contact’, and changed again to ‘child arrangements’ in April 2014.

Child arrangements orders cover both whom the child will ‘live with’ and whom the child will ‘spend time with’. It is possible to have a live with order where the children spend equal or unequal time with both parents, but ‘live with’ both parents for that specified time.  It is becoming more common for shared ‘live with’ orders to be made and this reflects the parents equal status as parents to the children.

What is child maintenance and what if I can’t afford to pay it?

Child maintenance is payable by any parent who is not the parent with whom the children are living. You can calculate what you are likely to be asked to pay by going here:  https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-child-maintenance

You will only be asked to pay what your earnings dictate you should pay.

What’s a MIAM and why do I have to attend?

A MIAM is a mediation and assessment meeting. It is a legal requirement to attend one, except in certain specified circumstances, before you can make an application to the court concerning children and financial matters.

You will meet with a mediator who will explain how mediation might help you in your circumstances. The mediator will then contact the other party and have a meeting with them. If the mediator finds that your case is suitable for mediation, he or she will discuss that with both parties and arrange sessions.  Mediation can often prove cheaper than court action.

If the parties don’t agree to mediate, or if one party refuses, then the mediator will sign the applicant’s form for the court and that person can proceed to file their application with the court.

How do I apply to the court?

If you know which form you need for the action you wish to take, then you simply fill in the application form, make the appropriate number of copies (which should be specified on the form or on any notes that go with the form) and send or take all the copies (keeping one for yourself), to the court with the appropriate application fee.

The form will not be processed without the appropriate fee.  Some people are eligible for fee remission.

I’ve been told about supported or supervised contact, how do I contact a centre?

If you are happy to go to a supported or supervised contact centre, then you can contact one directly on your own behalf by finding a suitable one here: https://www.naccc.org.uk/find-a-centre

I can’t get childcare for the day of the hearing, can I bring the children with me?

Your children will not be allowed into the actual court room, so unless you have another adult with you who can care for them in the waiting area, you should not bring them to the court with you.

You will get a good few weeks notice of the hearing date, so should have plenty of time to arrange childcare.

We’re in the middle of a child arrangements case and my ex has made up false allegations against me, she keeps repeating them, even though I was not arrested or charged. What can I do?

As you are already in proceedings, you can ask the court to arrange a fact finding hearing to test the allegations and make a decision on the allegations made.

Can I eat or drink in court?

You cannot eat, or chew gum, in the actual court room. Water is provided in all court rooms, just in case you get a dry throat whilst talking. You are also free to bring your own bottle of water with you.

If your case lasts a long time, you will get a break at lunch time and can eat then.  You can eat in the waiting area if you wish, but should ensure you put your rubbish in the bin.

What do I call the judge?

It depends on the level of court you are in. For most family matters, your case will be heard by the magistrates (lay bench), a deputy district judge, a district judge or a circuit judge. They are addressed as follows:

  • Magistrates: all of them together are ‘your worships’, but you would normally only address the chairperson as either ‘sir’ or ‘madam’
  • Deputy and District Judges: ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’
  • Circuit Judge: ‘Your honour’ – you must stand up to address a CJ.

Can I speak to the judge myself?

Yes, if you are representing yourself. The judge or magistrates will address you directly when they wish you to speak. You must not interrupt anyone else who is speaking and must wait your turn.  You can make notes so that you can remember any points you want to make.

If you are represented by a lawyer, then your lawyer will speak for you. It is often the case that if you are represented the court will not want to hear you speak at all unless they ask you a direct question. This is because you will have given your lawyer full instructions as to your case and what you want, and the lawyer will be in a position to address the court according to your wishes and or the law.

 

Is there a dress code for court?

There isn’t a dress code, however you should try to be well presented and clean for your hearing. It will make you feel more confident and help the court to see that you are respectful of the process.

It is not necessary for you to wear a suit if you do not own one.

My ex partner is taking me to court so that he can see the children, I have never been to court before, is there a jury?

No, there isn’t a jury in the family court. It will be a judge or a lay bench (usually three magistrates, one of whom will be female), the CAFCASS officer may be present, a court usher, your lawyer, if you have one and the other party’s lawyer, if they have one.

Family proceedings are held in private.

What is the difference between the criminal and civil courts?

The main difference between the two is the burden of proof. In the criminal courts, the burden of proof is that the jury must be ‘certain as to be sure‘ (previously ‘beyond reasonable doubt’) that the person is guilty before finding them guilty, whereas in the civil courts, the court merely has to find that one side of the story is more probable than the other.

It is different again in the family courts where there is no ‘burden of proof’ per se (except in fact finding cases where the more probable’ stance is used), and the courts instead focus on the best interests of the children.

Social Services have taken my children from me, what can I do?

You might be entitled to legal aid and should seek a legal aid solicitor immediately to provide you with advice and guidance and to make an application for legal aid on your behalf. If social services have taken your children they should have advised you of your right to have some form of legal assistance.

The matter is public law, and we do not deal with public law, so cannot advise you further other than to point you in the direction of finding a legal aid solicitor.  You can find one here: http://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/

Neither me or the other party have lawyers, but I was asked to prepare a bundle, what is a bundle?

A bundle is a file of all the documents relating to the case, including the applications that were made to the court, any CAFCASS safeguarding letters/reports, any information from social services and the police, and copies of all the witness and position statements that have been filed in court in relation to the proceedings.

Putting together a bundle is fairly straightforward, and there is a practice direction (PD27A) which details exactly what documents must go into the bundle (and a clear direction as to what must not go in it), however the work that is most relevant in relation to the bundle is the preparation of the preliminary papers, which include a statement of issues, a chronology, a case summary, an up to date position statement from each party, skeleton arguments, a list of essential reading for the judge and the likely time frame for that reading.

The preliminary papers are very relevant and are, arguably, the most difficult part of preparing a bundle. You might want to get legal assistance to produce the preliminary paperwork.