Family law can be complex as it involves family relationships and sensitive issues. The Family Court is a specialist court set up to deal with a wide range of family law issues, including:
- Relationship property
- Care and contact arrangements for children
- Adoption of children
- Abuse and neglect of children
- Separation and divorce for marriages and civil unions
- Guardianship, including appointing guardians and resolving disputes
- Family violence (sometimes referred to as “domestic” violence)
- Disputes about wills
- Mental health compulsory assessment and treatment
- Decision-making for people who have become mentally incapacitated
In many cases, a Family Court hearing in front of a Judge is a last resort to resolve a family dispute. There are various steps that people can take to resolve a dispute before going to the Family Court.
Family Dispute Resolution
Parents and guardians who take disputes about children to the Family Court are usually expected to have attempted to resolve the dispute themselves with the help of the Family Dispute Resolution process.
In Family Dispute Resolution, an independent mediator will help the parents to try to reach agreement . This process is run by an approved Family Dispute Resolution mediator. If your income is below a certain limit, you won’t have to pay for Family Dispute Resolution.
You can still make an application to the Family Court without first going through Family Dispute Resolution if you can show that one or both of you would be unable to participate effectively in the process, or that the other person has been violent towards you or your children.
Parenting through Separation
The person who applies to the Family Court must usually also have attended a Parenting Through Separation course. Parenting through Separation is a free course for parents who are no longer (or have never been) in a relationship together. It can also help grandparents and other family members who have responsibilities around a child’s care.
Applying to the Court
After you've applied to the Family Court to resolve your dispute, a Judge will consider your application and decide what the next steps in your case should be.
In cases involving the care of children, the most important factor will be the child's welfare and best interests. The Care of Children Act 2004 also sets out a number of other specific principles that have to be considered.
The interests of children are also taken into account in other family cases, such as disputes about relationship property.
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