Family Court

Specialist magistrates sit in the Family Court, dealing with private and public law cases

The Family Court is a court within civil jurisdiction dealing with a variety of cases relating to children, child protection, family breakdown and other related issues. Cases heard by magistrates in the Family Court concerning children are either matters of public law or private law. 

Although all levels of the Family Courts were opened up to accredited members of the media in April 2009, the Family Court may restrict access to proceedings if a child's welfare requires it, or if it is necessary to do so for the safety and protection of parties or witnesses involved; both of which can request this of the court, if they feel it necessary. Reporting can also be restricted in order to protect the welfare of children and families, or to relax rules in individual cases. 

Cases dealt with by the Family Court

  • Parental disputes over the contact and residence of their children
  • Local authority intervention to protect children
  • Decrees relating to divorce (not magistrates)
  • Financial support for children after divorce or relationship breakdown
  • Some aspects of domestic violence
  • Adoption

Public law

These cases are brought by local authorities or an authorised person (currently only the NSPCC) and include matters such as:

  • Care orders, which give parental responsibility for the child concerned to the local authority applying for the order
  • Supervision orders, which place the child under the supervision of their local authority
  • Emergency protection orders, which are used to ensure the immediate safety of a child by taking them to a place of safety, or by preventing their removal from a place of safety

Private Law

Private law cases are brought by private individuals, generally in connection with divorce or the parents’ separation. Within this area, types of order include:

  • Parental responsibility
  • Financial applications
  • Special guardianship orders, which give a special guardian legal responsibility without removing legal responsibility from the birth parents
  • Orders under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989, which can be used to settle where a child lives, parental contact and responsibility and other specific disputes. Orders can also be made over “prohibited steps” – for example, preventing a parent from moving a child to another country

Adoption

An adoption order made by a court removes the rights, duties and obligations of the natural parents or guardian and gives them to the adoptive parents. On adoption the child becomes, for virtually all purposes in law, the child of its adoptive parents.

Domestic violence

Two types of order can be granted:

  • A non-molestation order, which can either prohibit particular behaviour or general molestation
  • An occupation order, which can define or regulate rights of occupation of the home

Anyone breaching a non-molestation order can be arrested.

The Family Court also has the powers to order that a suspected abuser may be removed from the home, rather than the child.

The introduction of the single Family Court

The 'single Family Court' (also known as the Family Court) was implemented on 22 April 2014. On the same day, the majority of the family justice provisions in the Children and Families Act came into force. You can find more information on the single Family Court here.