24th Jan 2020

What happens at a court hearing for child arrangements?

Most clients will not have been in a courtroom before. It is therefore understandably a bit of a worry as the hearing approaches. So what should you expect?

Who will judge my case?

A children case can either be before Magistrate or a local judge, known as a District Judge. You will know beforehand which it will be. If it is Magistrates there will normally be three of them, if a District Judge, then just the judge. Magistrates also have a legal advisor present in court who will introduce the parties and their representatives to the court.

What will I have to do or say in court?

For most of the hearings you will not be expected to say anything, your solicitor or barrister will speak for you. If the Judge or Magistrates do ask you something then you address the Judge as “sir” or “ma’am” and the Magistrates as “your worships”. If the Judge or Magistrates are not already in court when you go in the courtroom you will need to stand up when they enter.

If you are the applicant then your representative will speak first, outline the position and the issues to the court. The other party’s representative then has a chance to respond. You cannot interrupt and you mustn’t comment or pull a face whatever might be said about you. The Judge/Magistrates are likely to ask questions and if CAFCASS are present the court will almost certainly ask for their input. Magistrates may leave the courtroom for a while to consider what orders to make but a Judge will most likely tell you his or her decision there and then. Do not comment on the decision until the Magistrates/Judge have left the room or you are outside.

What happens at a final hearing?

If the case goes to a final hearing, then the procedure is a bit different. You will likely be represented by a barrister. If you are the applicant your barrister will open the hearing giving an opening speech to the court, outlining the issues and what you say should happen and why. You will then be called to give evidence on oath. Your barrister will ask you to confirm your statement and may ask you a few questions.

Your opponent’s barrister then gets a chance to cross-examine you and that can take some time. Do not over elaborate your answers and if you don’t understand the question say so. Once you and any of your witnesses are finished then it is the respondent’s turn. After that both barristers have a chance to give closing speeches, summarising the evidence for the court and referring to any other relevant case decisions. The Judge/Magistrates will then retire to consider their verdict, coming back into court once they are ready to give their decision.

Stephen Root is one of Yorkshire’s leading family lawyers. Highly praised by industry guides Chambers and Partners and Legal500, he has been supporting divorcing couples for over 30 years.

Berwins' dedicated and friendly team is here to help. If you have a matter you would like to discuss with Stephen and the team, please get in touch by calling (01423) 509000 or use our contact form online and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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