We deal with a range of cases in the Family team. Primarily they follow a relationship breakdown and resolving issues around either financial matters or arrangements for children. A large proportion of our cases are dealt with outside of court, which is preferable for the families involved and usually helps to keep legal costs down and avoid delays caused by backlogs in the court system.
However, sometimes the disputes between separating couples and/or parents are unable to be resolved between themselves or with the assistance of their solicitors and court intervention is unavoidable. In the past in those circumstances, an application would have been made to the local Magistrates or County Court. Since 2014 however, there has been a single Family Court combining the previous family sections of the County and Magistrates’ courts. The idea behind this was to more appropriately allocate cases and as such improve the efficiency of court proceedings.
In practice, any applications about financial matters within divorce proceedings will be dealt with by a Judge. A judge is legally trained and will have practiced as a solicitor or barrister for a number of years before applying for and training in the judiciary.
Applications about arrangements for children are normally allocated on the basis of their complexity although sometimes this will come down to availability. This means that cases about child arrangements that aren’t for emergency protective orders or about a child/children relocating will be heard by a Bench of lay Magistrates. Magistrates are volunteers who specialise in either hearing criminal or family cases. Each hearing will be heard by three Magistrates, one who acts as chairperson. The Bench are advised and guided on the law by a legally qualified clerk.
Cases will sometimes be allocated up to a Judge or down to a Bench of Magistrates part way through proceedings if deemed appropriate. This may be because a particularly complex issue arises or falls away.
If you need to seek the Court’s assistance, we will guide you through the process and support you every step of the way. We recognise how stressful Court proceedings are and we will ensure you understand what is happening and why.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.