Going to court
You’ll need to go to court if you’ve tried other suitable options and still can’t agree arrangements, or you’re worried about the welfare of you or your children.
Choose Going to court if...
You want a court to make a decision or you have concerns about domestic abuse or child abuse.
- a decision is made in your child’s best interest
- legally binding outcome
- can be expensive
- court process takes a long time
- you might not get what you want - a judge makes the decision
- can be more stressful for you and your children
- may increase conflict between you and the other parent
Making your application to court
Step 1Compare other options before applying to court
Before applying to court you should see if you can resolve your dispute another way.
There's usually a better outcome for children and parents if an agreement can be reached without going to court.
If you and the other parent agree on the majority of issues you could trying using a negotiation tool or service. Most of them are free and can help you both reach an amicable agreement.
Professional mediation is usually quicker than court and can be cheaper than using a lawyer. It’s also a less stressful experience for your children.
If your situation is complex, or you’re not communicating with the other parent, you can use a lawyer to help you negotiate.
Step 2Choose to hire a lawyer or represent yourself
Hire a lawyer
A lawyer can be expensive but they’ll handle the legal aspects of the case and represent you in court.
They may try and negotiate a deal out of court with the other parent or recommend you move to step 2 straight away.
You may choose to represent yourself because you’d prefer to speak to the judge directly or because you can’t afford the legal fees.
If you can’t afford legal representation, you can still ask a lawyer for advice at any time during the court process.
GOV.UK has more information on how to represent yourself in court.
The Personal Support Unit (PSU) provides help for every stage of the court process for those without a lawyer.
Lawyer rates (per hour)
£110 - £410
Fees may vary depending on your location and the experience of the lawyer. How long you need will depend on your situation. Some lawyers offer free 30-minute consultations or fixed fees. You can also check if you can get free legal help.
Step 3Attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM)
The MIAM will assess whether mediation is right for you and if you can agree arrangements out of court.
You will need to find a mediator to book a MIAM.
Only authorised mediators can carry out a MIAM. Check with the mediator before you book.
Average cost of MIAM per person
Estimated fees may vary depending on your location and the experience of the mediator. Some mediators offer reductions if you’re unemployed or on a low income. It may also be cheaper if you attend together. If you or the other parent are eligible for legal aid you both will qualify for a free MIAM.
Step 4Apply for a court order
Fill in the C100 form to apply for a court order and send it to your nearest family court. It costs £215 to apply.
We’re trialling a new online service to apply to court about child arrangements. You might be able to apply online.
You must give a brief summary of your position and what you want to achieve from the hearing. This is sometimes known as a ‘position statement’.
You’ll need to make a separate application if you wish to discuss any other issues in court (for example your finances).
The court will set a date for a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). It’ll take between 4 and 6 weeks after you apply to get a date.
An advisor from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) will gather information before the first hearing.
The information includes:
- a social services and criminal record check on you and the other parent
- any concerns you and the other parent may have about the safety and welfare of your children
Cafcass will contact you to find out this information and to give you more details about what to do at the first hearing.
Cost of C100 court order
Only applicant needs to pay the fee.
Step 5Go to court
At the first hearing the judge will see if there’s still a chance you can reach an agreement with the other parent.
If you can reach an agreement
The judge will end the process and write a consent order setting out the details of your agreement.
If you can’t reach an agreement
The judge will write a court order if they believe you can both resolve the issues you disagree on.
Your case may be put on hold (adjourned) if the judge needs more information or time to decide what’s best for your children. The judge may ask Cafcass to write another report.
A new date is set for the next hearing. If you reach an agreement before this date you’ll need to go back to court for a judge to make a consent order.
GOV.UK has more information on what happens if there’s no agreement at the first hearing.