So, you're a father who can't gain access to your child because you're in dispute with your ex-partner. You've attempted mediation and informal discussions. Nothing has worked. You've accepted that you're going to have to go to Court to resolve this. You've completed all the forms and paperwork, either with or without the help of a lawyer or adviser. Now, what do you do with it and what will happen next?
You should normally make your application to your nearest family court. The court you apply to will usually deal with your case. However, sometimes a court may decide a case should be dealt with by another court and will transfer it there.
You may have to pay a court fee to apply for an order. This fee is not refundable. There may be other costs (for instance, lawyers' fees, witness expenses etc.) but that depends on your case and what you decide to do. Courts accept payment by debit or credit cards, cash, postal orders or cheques. If you do not pay a court fee your case may be stayed (suspended) or even struck out. (If your case is struck out it will be permanently removed from the court and you would need to apply again.)
WHAT THE COURT WILL DO
When the court office gets your forms it will check you have filled in the forms correctly and included any relevant papers. The court will give the respondents a copy
of your application form. It will give you a date and time when the court will first consider (hear) your case. This is usually called a directions hearing, or a ‘first hearing dispute resolution appointment’. The date of the directions hearing must give you enough time to let certain people know you have applied for an order and give them time to reply. At the directions hearing the court will decide a timetable for your case. Once you have taken steps to start a court case, the law places restrictions on the
information about the case that you can then share with other people.
WHAT A COURT MIGHT DECIDE
Once a case has started a court may make other decisions. These include:
• giving instructions that people must follow (these are called ‘directions’); or
• transferring a case to another court.
A court will only make an order if it thinks that would be best for the child. Sometimes a court may decide that it would be best not to make any order.
A court might:
• make an order;
• change an order (called ‘varying’ the order); or
• end an order (called ‘discharging’ the order).
If the court makes an order it will be based on what is best for your child. This might mean that you, or the other person, will not get exactly what you have asked for.
As we've said previously, legal proceedings can be costly, time consuming and highly stressful. There's every possibility that neither you, nor your ex-partner will get exactly what you are asking for in a case, but the Court has to act impartially in order to do what they consider is best for the child. For example, in one case we conducted, the father gained access to his child on a regular basis during the week, at weekends and during school holidays, which eventually suited both parties (despite some resistance from the mother at first), as the mother was then able to enjoy some child-free time for herself on a regular and planned basis. Strangely enough, what the parties couldn't agree on was the notice period for holidays, with the father wanting to leave holiday plans as late as possible, to take account of his business interests and the mother wanting as much notice as possible, in order to be able to book cheap flights! In that particular instance, the father 'lost out', however, in hindsight, he could see that the children could then have even longer to enjoy the anticipation of the holidays to come, which was nearly as good as the holidays themselves! So it is possible to achieve a resolution that makes everyone happy - sometimes, you just need to work at it...
It might help you to read all 3 parts of this blog (Part 1 is on mediation, Part 2 is on completing the appropriate paperwork and Part 3 is on the Court process). We've also produced a podcast which lasts less than 15 minutes and you can listen to it whilst you're out and about. It contains the same information as our blogs, but with a few extra insights thrown in by Isabelle Parasram, our Head of Legal Practice: