What to expect at Family Court hearings
What do I have to wear?
You should try to dress smartly for your court hearing. Often, clients will prefer to wear a suit and smart shoes so that their attire is in keeping with the formality of the occasion. However, if you do not often wear a suit or prefer not to do so, you should wear an outfit that is clean, smart and that you feel comfortable wearing.
When should I arrive?
We will suggest the time that you should arrive at court, as sometimes it will be helpful to meet with your barrister approximately one hour before the hearing, for negotiations and/or preparation. It is important that you allow plenty of time to get to court, arrive and find your way to the correct courtroom or waiting area outside of the judge's chambers. It helps to arrive five or 10 minutes earlier than arranged with your barrister, to help collect your thoughts.
Where do I go?
Courts have strict security and so when you arrive at the court, your bags will be searched and you will go through a security check, similar to an airport's style of security. This should take no more than a couple of minutes. You will then need to meet with your barrister and/or solicitor.
How long will my hearing last?
When the court lists your hearing they will fix it for a particular duration, for example 20 or 45 minutes. This will be confirmed in advance of your hearing. Courts run to tight schedules and it is likely that there will be a number of other court hearings being heard on the same day as yours during the morning and afternoon.
Sometimes the court will list a number of cases to be heard within an hour, which will mean that there may be some delay if other cases are not running to time. Any time at court can be used to progress your matter, where possible, and so a large part of your time at court for a first hearing will be spent outside of the courtroom. Time might be spent in case preparation and strategy with your legal representative, and/or in negotiations if this is appropriate.
It is advisable that you are free for the rest of the day.
Do I have to see the other party?
Once you have signed in and have met with your legal representative, it is likely that you will find a meeting room (if one is free) where you can sit and discuss your case and strategy, as well as any negotiations that might take place.
The other party will not be present in the same meeting room as you. Their legal representative will be sat with them in a similar room (if they have instructed a legal representative) and so you will not have to speak to one another during the negotiations or sit together during this time.
You will sit in the same courtroom or judge's chambers for the hearing itself although you will both be sat separately and with your legal representatives, facing the judge.
What is the courtroom like?
Often family law cases are heard in judge's chambers and so the court room is not the large, echoing 19th century rooms that you will often see in courtroom dramas on the television. Chambers are usually about the size of a large living room, with carpet floors and desks with chairs facing the judge, who will be sat facing the parties.
The judge and your legal representative will probably wear smart business attire and will not wear wigs and gowns in family law matters.
Do I have to say anything?
Your legal representative will explain your position to the court and will make representations on your behalf. A judge will occasionally ask you to clarify a factual point or ask you a direct question. You just need to answer clearly and honestly and be succinct. Otherwise, unless you are required to give evidence, you do not need to speak at all and will not be expected to speak directly. If you wish to make a point, this should be made through your legal representative.
In most family cases before the County Court you will address your judge as 'Sir' or 'Madam'.
In some hearings you will be required to give evidence in which case you will be asked to answer questions from the legal representatives present and/ or the judge. You will be forewarned if this is likely.
Third parties and media
All family law proceedings are treated as private. Please note that third parties who are not connected to the proceedings (such as new partners or relatives of the parties) cannot be present in the courtroom or judge's chambers where the actual hearing takes place. However, if you feel that you need the moral support of a friend or family member at the hearing, they can wait in a meeting room or in a seated area for you.
If you are worried that a journalist may be interested in your case then your names will be kept private, although we can discuss this further with you.
It is important that all court staff, judiciary, lawyers and parties are treated with respect and in a calm and civil fashion. Whilst we appreciate that family law hearings deal with important and emotive personal issues, you will only create a good impression if you and any third parties with you behave without reproach.
If you have any questions about your particular court hearing, please contact the solicitor with conduct of your matter.