What Happens in Family Court? Everything You Need To Know

Family court is a special branch of the judicial system that deals with matters related to family law, such as divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, adoption, guardianship, and domestic violence.

Family court aims to provide families with specialized services and obtain the best possible results in family law matters.

ew York County Family Court - Mitchell Giurgola
What Happens in Family Court? – Mitchell Giurgola

Each state has specific laws and procedures that govern family court cases, but there are some common stages and processes that apply to most family court matters.

Pre-Action Procedures

Before starting a family court case, parties are encouraged to participate in pre-action procedures, which are actions that can help them resolve their disputes without going to court.

Pre-action procedures may include negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, or collaborative law.

These methods can help parties to communicate effectively, narrow down the issues, and reach agreements that are in their best interests and the best interests of their children.

Pre-action procedures can also save time, money, and emotional stress for the parties and the court.

Pre-action procedures are not mandatory, but they are expected in most family court cases, unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as urgency, violence, or abuse.

Parties who do not comply with pre-action procedures may face consequences, such as costs orders or reduced chances of success in court.

Initiating a Family Court Case

If pre-action procedures fail or are not suitable, parties can initiate a family court case by filing an application with the court.

The application must state the orders that the party is seeking from the court, such as parenting orders, property orders, or injunctions.

The application must also include a sworn statement (affidavit) that sets out the facts and evidence that support the party’s claims.

The party who files the application is called the applicant, and the other party is called the respondent.

The applicant must serve a copy of the application and the affidavit on the respondent, and file a proof of service with the court.

The respondent must file a response to the application and an affidavit within a specified time limit, usually 28 days.

The respondent must also serve a copy of the response and the affidavit on the applicant, and file a proof of service with the court.

First Court Date

The first court date is usually a directions hearing, which is a short hearing where the judge or the registrar gives directions to the parties on how to proceed with the case.

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Family Court | Mitchell Law

The directions may include:

1.Referring the parties to a family dispute resolution service, such as mediation or conciliation, to try to resolve some or all of the issues in dispute.

2.Ordering the parties to file and exchange further documents, such as financial statements, valuations, or expert reports.

3.Ordering the parties to attend a case assessment conference, which is a meeting with a family consultant who assesses the parties’ situation and provides recommendations to the court.

4.Ordering the parties to attend a procedural hearing, which is a hearing where the judge or the registrar reviews the progress of the case and makes further directions or orders.

5.Setting a date for a final hearing, which is a hearing where the judge decides the case and makes final orders.

Final Hearing

The final hearing is the last stage of the family court process, where the judge hears the evidence and arguments of the parties and makes a decision on the case.

The final hearing may take several hours or several days, depending on the complexity of the case and the number of witnesses and documents involved.

At the final hearing, the parties or their lawyers present their opening statements, which are summaries of their cases and the orders they are seeking.

Then, the applicant or their lawyer calls their witnesses and examines them.

The respondent or their lawyer can cross-examine the applicant’s witnesses to challenge their credibility or reliability. The respondent or their lawyer then calls their witnesses and examines them.

The applicant or their lawyer can cross-examine the respondent’s witnesses.

The parties or their lawyers then present their closing statements, which are summaries of their evidence and arguments and the reasons why the judge should make the orders they are seeking.

The judge then considers all the evidence and arguments and applies the relevant law to the facts of the case.

The judge makes a decision and pronounces the orders in court.

The judge may also give reasons for the decision, either orally or in writing.

The orders are binding and enforceable on the parties, unless they are appealed or varied by a higher court.

How Long Does A Family Court Hearing Take

There is no definitive answer to how long a typical family court case takes, as it depends on many factors, such as the type and complexity of the case, the number and nature of the issues involved, the availability of the parties and the court, and the possibility of settlement or mediation.

However, based on some sources, I can provide you with some general estimates for different kinds of family court cases:

1.Divorce cases

According to a survey of readers in the United States, the average divorce case took about 11 months to complete, from the date of filing the petition to the final court order.

However, this duration varied depending on whether the divorce was contested or uncontested, and how many issues were disputed.

The average divorce duration jumped to 12 months for readers with one contested issue, and it climbed steadily from there: 13 months for two disputes, and 16 months for three or more issues.

2.Child arrangement cases

According to the Family Court Statistics Quarterly in England and Wales, the average time for a disposal of a case for the arrangements for children following parental separation was 28 weeks in July to September 2021.

This was up 2 weeks from the same quarter in 2020. The average time for these cases has increased steadily since mid-2013, when it was around 14 weeks.

3.Child protection cases

According to the same source, the average time for a care or supervision application to reach first disposal was 34 weeks in July to September 2021.

This was up 4 weeks from the same quarter in 2020.

The average time for these cases has been relatively stable since 2015, when it was around 30 weeks.

4.Domestic violence cases

According to a report by the Women’s Aid Federation of England, the average length of time from application to final order for a non-molestation order was 8.2 weeks in 2019.

The average length of time from application to final order for an occupation order was 10.4 weeks in 2019.

These orders are made to protect victims of domestic abuse from further harm or harassment by their abusers.

Conclusion

Family court is a complex and often stressful process that requires parties to follow certain rules and procedures and to comply with the court’s directions and orders.

Its cases can have significant and lasting impacts on the parties and their children, so it is important that parties seek legal advice and representation from a qualified and experienced family lawyer.

A family lawyer can help parties to understand their rights and obligations, to negotiate and resolve their disputes, and to present their cases effectively in court.

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