A Guide to Getting Ready for a Family Court Hearing
Do you have a family court hearing date in your diary? Maybe it is about the future parenting and childcare arrangements for your children as you or your ex-partner are applying for a child arrangement order. Alternatively, you may be asking the court to make a financial court order or an injunction order.
In this blog, our family law solicitors look at how to get ready for a family court hearing.
Online and London Family Law Solicitors
Do you need to go to court?
If you are at the start of your separation or negotiations to sort out a divorce financial settlement or to agree on child custody have you questioned whether you need to go to court? Not all family law disputes end up in court. There are many non-court alternatives to reach a resolution, such as:
- Solicitor negotiations
- Round table meetings with solicitors and your ex-partner
- Family mediation with legal support
- Family arbitration
Your family law solicitor can discuss whether trying a non-court option is in your best interests. For some people going to court is necessary. For example, if you need an injunction order to stop domestic violence or an urgent financial court order because you fear that your spouse is disposing of family assets or you need a children law order because your child is at risk of parental child abduction.
If you can reach an agreement outside of court proceedings then your family law solicitor can discuss how best to convert that agreement into a binding court order. In most cases, you don’t need to go to a court hearing to obtain an agreed court order as the judge can be asked to look at the paperwork and approve the agreed order.
Getting ready for a family court hearing
Here are our family lawyers’ tips on getting ready for a family court hearing:
- Speak to a family law solicitor – many people start court proceedings without first taking legal advice. Whilst that can work out for some people others may make the wrong sort of court application or file incorrect paperwork so they have problems when they get to the family court hearing
- Review what you want – when you start family court proceedings you can develop ‘tunnel vision’ and not review or properly consider offers or concessions that your ex-partner is making. That’s because you are so focussed on the court hearing. It is worth taking a step back and looking at any offers objectively. Are you likely to do any better by going ahead with the court hearing? No one, not even family lawyers, can guarantee a result from court proceedings as the final decision is down to the judge. Is your ex-partner’s offer a reasonable compromise? If it is you may end up with the judge making an order that is more generous to your ex-partner than the compromise deal they were willing to offer to settle out of court
- Is it worth it – some things have no price (such as a prohibited steps order to stop child abduction) but in other scenarios, you need to ask if is it worth spending a lot of money on legal fees for the family hearing? For example, if you are only £5,000 apart when negotiating a divorce financial settlement with your ex-spouse or if your children law dispute relates to whether the children are returned after contact at 5.50 pm or 6 pm
- Check the date – family court hearings can't be cancelled for no good reason so as soon as you get the court hearing date make sure it is convenient for you and your lawyers. If you are unwell at the date of the hearing the court will want medical evidence (such as a doctor’s letter) to adjourn the hearing to a new date
- Where is the court hearing – make sure you know where you are going. The court venue may be different from the one you went to for interim court hearings because courts close and venues change. Give yourself plenty of time to get to court so you don’t arrive late and harassed. Allow extra time to get through court security at the court entrance and to book in with the court usher or to meet with your family lawyer
- Switch your phone off – in some courts, there is nothing more enraging to a judge than when a mobile phone goes off with a message or incoming call. Remember that whilst you may not think it a big deal the judge may do if they lose their train of thought
- Look the part – you don’t need to wear a black suit or even a suit but remember that the court isn’t the beach or a construction site or a nightclub. You may not want to wear designer labels if you are arguing that you can't afford to pay spousal maintenance but equally, you don’t want to look as if you don’t care what first impression you give out to others
- Be polite – going to the family court is stressful so it isn’t surprising if people are short-tempered or rude. If you are rude that should not affect the outcome of the hearing but it certainly won't help your case. It isn’t just about being polite when speaking to the judge but also being polite to the court usher, holding a court door open to your ex-partner’s family lawyer, or restraining your temper when being cross-examined. The judge will hear or see these things and you don’t want the judge influenced by something as simple as your being impolite or downright rude. Sometimes judges or your ex-partner’s barrister can appear rude in their behaviour towards you. The best advice is to try and rise above it so you remain calm and composed and focussed on your case
- Don’t interrupt – we have all seen TV programmes where there are constant interruptions and ‘objections’ but try not to interrupt either the judge or anyone else. If you have comments on what is being said write them down and discreetly pass the one note to your family lawyer. Comical faces expressing incredulity or disbelief and face pulling can also be distracting so, whilst you may not like what is being said, it is best to appear professional
- Read the paperwork – whilst you are not expected to memorise your children law statement or Form E in divorce financial settlement court proceedings you should reread the documents so you are aware of the contents. That’s because you won't help your case if you say in evidence that you are self-employed earning £x gross per annum but you provided different information in your Form E – unless there is a good reason for the change in income
- Be honest – if you need to make concessions then you should do so. For example, if a parent was a great dad whilst you were living together then acknowledge that. Your honesty is likely to make your evidence more compelling about why, despite their positive attributes, you think your children are at risk of parental child abduction or why you think that it is in your child’s best interests that they should live with you under a child arrangement order
It is never normally too late to take legal advice about a family court hearing. Family lawyers say that if you are spending the time and money in applying to the family court for an order or responding to a court application, it is best to be prepared so you don’t ‘blow it’ on the day of the court hearing.
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