Family Court

The Family Court and Family Justice System in England and Wales is responsible for resolving a wide range of family disputes and providing solutions to the most complex and sensitive issues that can arise between family members. The system is designed to protect the welfare of children and provide a fair and just resolution for all parties involved.

What is the Family Court and Family Justice System?

The Family Court is a division of the court system in England and Wales that deals exclusively with family law matters. It has jurisdiction over a wide range of cases, including divorce, child custody, adoption, domestic violence, and child protection.

The Family Justice System is a broader term that refers to the entire network of agencies and professionals involved in resolving family disputes, including the Family Court, social services, mediation services, and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).

When and how was the Family Court founded?

The Family Court was created in 2014 as part of a major overhaul of the family justice system in England and Wales as a result of the Children and Families Act 2014.

The aim of the reform was to consolidate the existing family courts, which were previously known as the Family Proceedings Court, County Court, and High Court, into a single unified court. The new court would handle all family law cases and provide a simpler, more streamlined process for families in crisis.

The creation of the Family Court brought all family law cases under one roof, and provided a consistent and specialist approach to resolving family disputes. The court is led by a designated family judge, who has expertise in family law and is responsible for overseeing all family cases in the court.

By what authority do the Family Court exist ?

The Family Court is a statutory court, meaning it has been established by an Act of Parliament. The court is governed by the Family Procedure Rules, which set out the procedures and rules that must be followed in family law cases.

The Family Justice System operates under a range of legislation, including the Children Act 1989, the Children and Families Act 2014, the Family Law Act 1996, and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

What are Family Judges ?

“When disputes need to be decided by the Family Court, depending on the type of case, they are dealt with by either Family Panel Lay Magistrates or District Judge (Magistrates’ court) or by a District, Circuit or High Court Judge.

Family magistrates and Family judges are specially trained by the Judicial College to deal with issues affecting families, including training on domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour. They receive regular updating training to ensure their expertise in family law remains up to date.”

Family Judges Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

What is the Family Court process?

The Family Court process can vary depending on the type of case being heard, but generally involves the following stages:

  1. Pre-proceedings: This is where social services become involved in a family’s life due to concerns about the welfare of a child. At this stage, efforts are made to address the issues and prevent the need for court proceedings.
  2. Mediation: Mediation is often recommended as a way to resolve family disputes without the need for court proceedings. This involves a neutral third party who helps the parties to reach an agreement.
  3. Application: If mediation is unsuccessful or not appropriate, one or both parties may apply to the court for an order. This involves completing an application form and paying a fee.
  4. First hearing: The first hearing is an opportunity for the court to consider the issues and decide what further steps are necessary. This may include the appointment of a CAFCASS officer, who will carry out an assessment of the child’s welfare.
  5. Further hearings: Depending on the nature of the case, there may be further hearings to consider evidence and make decisions. This may involve the appointment of expert witnesses, such as psychologists or social workers.
  6. Final hearing: The final hearing is where the court makes a final decision about the case. This may involve the making of a court order, which sets out what should happen next.

The family justice system exists to help families resolve disputes arising in respect of family matters quickly and with the minimum of disruption to those involved.

Courts and Tribunals Judiciary Family Law Courts

Who are CAFCASS ?

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service CAFCASS is an independent organization that provides advice to the family court on matters relating to children and families. Its role is to ensure that the best interests of the child are taken into account when decisions are being made by the court. CAFCASS officers work with families to gather information about the child’s circumstances and make recommendations to the court on issues such as custody and access.

CAFCASS officers may also be asked to prepare a report for the court, known as a Section 7 report. This report provides the court with an assessment of the child’s needs and the factors that should be taken into account when making decisions about custody and access.

Family Law Legislation

There have been a number of key pieces of legislation that have shaped the family justice system in England and Wales. These include:

  • The Children Act 1989: This act sets out the legal framework for the protection and welfare of children in England and Wales. It established the principle that the best interests of the child should be the primary consideration in all decisions made by the court.
  • The Family Law Act 1996: This act introduced significant changes to the family justice system, including the establishment of the family court and the introduction of new measures to promote non-court-based dispute resolution such as mediation.
  • The Adoption and Children Act 2002: This act introduced significant changes to adoption law in England and Wales, including the creation of the Adoption and Children Act Register and new provisions for step-parent adoption.
  • The Children and Families Act 2014: This act introduced a range of reforms to the family justice system, including changes to the law on child arrangements, the introduction of a 26-week time limit for care proceedings, and the requirement for separating parents to attend mediation before making an application to the court.

Family Solicitors and Family Barristers

A family solicitor is a qualified legal practitioner in family law responsible for preparing legal documentation, representing and/or defending a client’s legal interests.

Family barristers are qualified legal professionals in family law who specialise in advocacy and litigation.


The family court and family justice system in England and Wales play a vital role in resolving disputes between family members and promoting the best interests of children.

While the process can be complex and stressful, the system is designed to be child-focused and to provide a fair and impartial process for all parties involved.

The key legislation that governs the family justice system reflects the changing nature of family law in England and Wales and the ongoing efforts to ensure that the system remains fit for purpose in the years to come.

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