It is possible to ask the family court to make decisions about arrangements for children when parents, or those with parental responsibility, cannot agree on them.

The judge can make a court Order, which is a legally binding ruling, on these arrangements.

However, going to court is not always the best method to resolve private family disputes.

Going to court can be a long, drawn-out process, taking several months to reach a conclusion. It can be emotionally and physically draining for any party who goes to court, with or without a legal representative.

Going to court without a legal representative is not easy. Family law processes, rules and legislation can be difficult to understand. Our previous research has shown this: Video on Litigant in Person research.

Also, the issues may be highly emotional and the parties can be distressed or hostile towards each other because of their relationship and unresolved disputes.

So, if you have decided that applying for a court Order is the way forward, do it with your eyes open.

Be prepared

The process is complex and there is a lot of information which cannot be over-simplified. This website aims to support litigants to understand the process and what to expect.

There are many different procedures and they are relevant at different times and for different purposes.

If you have a legal representative, they will manage the process for you, but you still have to discuss your case with them and go to court hearings. You may also have to speak with other people, such as a Court Children's Officer, who is a specialist social worker.

If you are representing yourself, you will have to prepare case documents, attend all hearings and correspond with the court office, the other party and people who may be involved in your case.

Representing yourself can increase the pressure. For example, you may not be able to negotiate effectively with qualified legal representatives who are used to dealing with disputes in these ways. Or you may not have the time to manage your case.

If you are thinking about or know that you are going to court, use the Pathfinder tool or browse the sections below for the information you need.


Throughout this website we refer to the judge making decisions. In the Family Proceedings Court, a judge makes the decision with the assistance of two Lay Magistrates. In the Family Care Centre and the High Court, family cases are decided by a single judge.

See Which court deals with family cases.

Also, we use the term ‘legal representative’ to mean the solicitor or barrister who represents their client in a case.

More on what family courts do

The family courts specialise in court Orders for arrangements for children after family breakdown. See what a typical case looks like and find out what the courts do.

Can I take a case on my own?

You don't have to have legal representation in the family court, but it can be daunting as a litigant in...

How judges decide child arrangements

The child’s welfare is the primary consideration when judges make decisions. The Welfare Checklist guides the process and a Court...

Agreeing out of court

Parties can agree between themselves while the case is ongoing.

Family court Orders

Family court Orders formalise arrangements for a child’s upbringing, for example: Contact Order, Residence Order, Prohibited Steps Order, Specific Issues...

Who can apply?

Those with parental responsibility can usually apply directly to the family court. Step-parents or others involved in the child’s upbringing...