Preparing to attend a Family Court hearing
Family court hearings and the way they are conducted has changed over the last few years, and they now take place in one of two ways:
- by attending the court in person; or
- via a remote hearing – click here for our advice on Preparing for a remote hearing in the Family Court.
If this is your first time attending a court hearing, it may be helpful to know what to expect and how to prepare. Tayyaba Ahmad has collected some useful tips from our team of family lawyers that may be helpful and answers to frequently asked questions.
Check that you know where to go
Make sure you know how to get to the court in advance, if you have not been there before, and check arrangements for parking or public transport.
How should I prepare?
Before the hearing you should read over very carefully your own statement or position statement as well as the most recent documents that have come in.
If you have a lawyer then make sure you have a discussion with them before the hearing outlining your position so that they are clear.
Have a pen and paper with you and make notes of anything you want to say or want your lawyer to say for you.
Allow plenty of time on the day
Try to get to court at least one hour before the hearing start time.
You will need to pass through security, so check that you are only bringing things that are essential.
How long will the hearing last?
The time given in your letter/notice is when the day’s cases start. Your case might not be first so you need to be prepared to wait.
Bare this in mind if you need to make arrangements for childcare or time off work.
Will I see my ex-partner?
Private waiting rooms are available on request, for example if you do not wish to wait in the same room as your ex-partner or anyone else involved in the proceedings.
It is also possible to make special arrangements in the court room if you feel uncomfortable. For example, providing a screen.
You should speak to your lawyer about this in advance.
Who will be in the court?
An attended hearing is conducted in person in the court building and all parties are required to attend, including:
- your former partner;
- your solicitor(s);
- the judge and their clerk
You might want to bring one person to support you on the day, but that person will not be able to come into the courtroom unless everyone agrees. They would be able to wait outside/in reception and see you during breaks.
How do I know when it is my turn to speak?
If you have a lawyer, they will speak for you.
If you are a litigant in person, your turn to speak will depend on if you are the applicant or the respondent. The applicant speaks first and then the respondent.
The Judge will give you a chance to speak or you can raise your hand if you think it is urgent.
How do I address the judge?
This depends on what type of Judge you are before:
- District Judges are addressed as Sir or Madam.
- Circuit Judges are addressed as Your Honour.
- High Court Judges are addressed as My Lord or My Lady.
Will everyone be in robes and wigs?
No this is not practiced in the family court.
Do I need to wear a suit?
There are no other rules about what you should wear, but it is a good idea to dress smartly if you can.
Are there facilities for people with a disability?
It is usually possible to request reasonable adjustments in advance, for example:
- ramps or accessible toilets
- a hearing loop
- forms in large print
- guidance in audio or easy read format.
Can I take my mobile phone into court?
You must silence all calls and notifications on mobile devices when you are in the courtroom. You must not take photos or videos, or post on social media.
What if I need a break or have a problem, how can I make this known?
You can communicate this to your lawyer or the court staff.
What if English is not my first language, or I am hearing impaired, and need help?
If you have a solicitor, they can arrange for an interpreter to attend the hearing who will be able to translate for you. If you do not have a solicitor then you can ask the court to make this arrangement.
Will the hearing be recorded?
Will I get a copy of the recording?
No, unless an order is made for a transcript to be provided.
Will there be refreshments or do I need to bring some?
It is a good idea to bring food and (non-alcoholic) drinks as not all buildings have refreshments available. Some courts do have café’s.
Can the public or the media attend the Family Court?
No, the Family Court is not open to the public or the media.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.