A judge is the person who presides over (deals with) the proceedings. In the Family Court there are three levels of judges who are likely to hear your case.
- Judges of the District Judge level – these are the judges that hear most family law cases.
- Judges of the Circuit Judge level – these judges are allocated cases which are considered to have additional complexity. They can also deal with some appeal cases.
- Magistrates – magistrates are ‘lay’ people from the community who have been recruited and trained to hear cases. They will not usually have a legal background. They receive support from Legal Advisers who advise them on the law and procedure.
Some cases are very complex and so they may be allocated to judges who sit in the High Court (Family Division). Those judges will also deal with appeals.
Litigant in person
This is any party who is representing themselves in the Family Court, therefore if you do not have legal representation you are a known as a litigant in person.
This is a legal professional who is instructed by a party to represent that person.
More specifically barristers can:
- advise you on your legal status and rights
- draft and send documents on your behalf
- negotiate on your behalf
- represent you in court, tribunals or mediation
- attend some meetings and hearings on your behalf
This is a legal professional who is instructed by a person to provide legal services. They can advise on the law and can take action on behalf of their client. They can also represent in court.
This is a professional who can help a child express their wishes and feelings and make sure that the child is fairly treated.
An advocate can go to meetings on the child’s behalf, can provide information and help in the process of making a complaint.
Usually an advocate would not be involved in Family Court cases but they may be involved if a child is already looked after by a local authority an so has be allocated an advocate.
Some parent who may have difficulties with following certain things may also be allocated an advocate by, for example, their local authority’s adults social care team.
This is a professional who helps families to talk about their differences and to try and reach a resolution.
For example, if parents disagree on who a child should live with then they can go to see a mediator to try and reach an agreement.
Before you can apply to court for:
- Child Arrangements Order
- Specific Issue Order
- Prohibited Steps Order
- Parental Responsibility Order
- An order appointing a Child’s Guardian
- Removal from Jurisdiction Order
- Special Guardianship Order
it is now a legal requirement that you must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with a qualified mediator first (unless you fall under an exemption).
The role of a children’s guardian is to act on behalf of a child in Family Court proceedings with the duty of safeguarding the interests of the child. The court will make a decision about whether a children’s guardian should be appointed and if so, Cafcass will allocate one of its officers to the role of children’s guardian. They are independent of the courts, Children’s Services and any other person involved in the case.
When you arrive to court you must let the usher know that you have arrived as they are responsible for making sure that your hearing goes ahead smoothly.
Make sure you inform the usher if you are representing yourself or if you are bringing a McKenzie Friend into the hearing.
A McKenzie Friend is a person who you wish to take into the court hearings with you for moral support.
They can help you get your documents in order, take notes for you or quietly give you advice on the proceedings, but they cannot speak to the Judge on your behalf unless they have permission to do so. They can be a family member or a friend.
There are McKenzie Friend’s who you can pay to assist you but as they are not regulated legal professionals, they may not be legally trained and may not have insurance.
You have the right to bring a McKenzie Friend with you to a hearing but you should remember to inform the judge that you are doing so. Judges usually only refuse a McKenzie Friend if there is an exceptional reason to do so.
If a person lacks capacity to make decisions for themselves in court proceedings, a Litigation Friend will be appointed to conduct the proceedings.
Cafcass is an independent organisation appointed to assist the Family Court. Their officers will do safeguarding checks, may carry out investigations and assessment and provide reports to the Family Court. They also look out for the best interests of children in proceedings.
Please refer to the information page on The role of Cafcass for more information.
Personal Support Unit
This is a charity which provides support for litigants in person who are in proceedings at the Family Court.
They can offer practical guidance but do not offer legal advice.
For further information about your closest Personal Support Unit please visit: www.thepsu.org.