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Family cases can be long and complicated and some cases can take several months to finish.

If you have a legal representative, they will manage the process for you, but you still have to discuss your case with them and may need to attend court hearings.

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.

This can be time-consuming and demanding. Also, strict deadlines and procedures may apply for corresponding and submitting & receiving documents.

When you attend a hearing, make sure you have ready everything you need for it. See Preparing case documents on how to prepare the documents the judge asks for.

Hearings can be fast-moving and unfamiliar, especially if you are not used to it, so it is important that you are prepared.

Here are some things to be aware of.

  • Know what is in the documents

    Before a hearing or an out of court discussion, make sure you understand all the documents that the judge will consider.

    Make sure you know what you have requested and said in your written statements. Make sure you understand the other party’s statements, any documents from others involved in the case, such as the Article 4 report – see Court Children’s Officer.

    Make sure you know what you want to say in relation to these documents.

  • Keep careful records

    Keep track of the developments in your case. Make a note and date of any conversation with your legal representative, if you have one, the other party or the court, any document you submit or receive, any emails and phone conversations about your case.

    It is a good idea to keep all of the papers related to the case together, such as in a folder or a file binder. This will make it easier to refer to information you need or if the judge or other party refer to it.

    Put them in chronological order and make separate sections for:

    • Court applications, notice about hearings, court Orders
    • Any statements, position papers, witness statements, etc
    • Expert reports
    • Letters from the court and the other party, and your letters
    • Your notes

    Make sure you have your own copy of any documents you have already submitted to the court.

  • Be prepared for giving evidence and cross-examination

    Your legal representative should explain what you need to do if you are required to give evidence in court or be cross-examined. If you do not have one, you will need to prepare carefully – see Giving evidence & cross-examination.

  • Only refer to documents submitted to the case

    It is important to remember that you are not allowed to present any document at a hearing unless you were asked to do so by the judge or court office.

    If you wish to make changes to a document which has been given to the court already, you should ask permission in writing to change the document. You cannot change it without the permission of the court.

    If you bring a document to a hearing without first having obtained permission to file it with the court, the judge is likely to refuse to consider it - see Submitting documents.

  • If in doubt, ask

    Hearing proceedings can be unfamiliar and fast-moving. You may hear terms that you have not heard before or be asked to do something that you are not sure of. If you are represented, discuss anything you do not understand with your legal representative.

    If you are self-representing and are not sure what the judge has asked you to do, you should ask the judge to explain. It is important to check that you have understood correctly. Do not interrupt the judge.

    During the hearing you can make a note of what you do not understand and ask the judge when it is your turn to speak. If the judge asks you, ‘Do you understand?’ it is a good idea to explain back to them your understanding to make sure.

    If you are unsure what happened during a hearing or what you are required to do next after you have left the hearing, you can email the court office to ask – see NICTS contact details or Court office emails.

  • Privacy in family court proceedings

    At the Family Proceedings Court, hearings are not public. You are not allowed to record the hearings and there is no stenographer to take a written record. It is a good idea to make notes yourself.

    In the Family Care Centre and the High Court, hearings may be audio-recorded by the court. You are not allowed to record the hearings. However, it is a good idea to make your own notes because you are not given a record of the hearing unless you request one.

    You can apply for an audio-record or written transcript of your hearing held at the Family Care Centre or the High Court. See Department of Justice Audio Recordings and Transcripts of Court Proceedings.

  • Get support - McKenzie Friend

    You may be able to have a McKenzie Friend assist you both in advance of your hearing and the hearing itself - see Get Support – McKenzie Friend.

  • Confidentiality of case documents

    It is important to remember that in proceedings involving a child, no document from the court proceedings can be shared with any other person except a party in the case, a legal representative, or a Court Children’s Officer without the permission of the judge. This includes the Court Children’s Officer’s report.

    If you do not have legal representation and you are assisted by a McKenzie Friend, you can ask the judge for permission to share all papers related to the case with them – see Get support - McKenzie Friend.

    A request for documents to be shared with another person can be made during a hearing or formally in Form C2 and submitted to the court. It should set out the reasons for the request - see Applying in ongoing proceedings.

  • Be aware of timescales

    If an application for an Order and the summons are approved by a judge, a date for the first directions or case management hearing will be listed within 6 weeks of application. However, timescales for hearings will depend on the case circumstances and any directions that have been made.

    On average, a review hearing take place about 5 weeks after the first directions hearing. Reviews usually take place to ensure that the judge’s directions, including those for the filing of documents by the parties, have been adhered to.

    Reviews are normally listed shortly after the date for filing any directed documents. Sometimes they take place before this date to check that any other directions, such as those for contact, have been complied with.

    If you file a Form C2, it will likely be heard during the next listed review, unless the judge considers it necessary to hear the application before that date or if the application is on an ex parte basis.

In this section

Preparing case documents

Position statements, affidavits, witness statements and skeleton arguments are some of the documents the judge may request.

Giving evidence & cross-examination

Anyone who has provided evidence or information in a family case can be required to be cross-examined.

Submitting and receiving documents

There are specific procedures for submitting or serving case documents in family cases.