Types of Family Cases

The disputes that come before the Family Court and the Family Division of the High Court often involve very difficult circumstances and can touch on almost every aspect of family life.

Cases about marriage

The law relating to marriage is contained in the Marriage Act 1949. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 received Royal Assent on 17 July 2013 and came into force on 13 March 2014. The Family Court deals with a variety of cases concerning marriage, for example where there is an issue about whether the marriage has taken place properly.

Cases about divorce

The law relating to divorce is contained in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. The Family Court will decide whether a marriage or civil partnership may be dissolved on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

Cases about financial remedies following divorce

The Family Court can consider the financial position of couples who are divorcing. Having heard the case, the Family Court can make a wide range or orders allocating the property, capital and income of both parties between themselves and in respect of any children, including making provision for maintenance pending conclusion of the court case. In some cases, the English and Welsh courts can deal with financial relief following an overseas divorce that is recognised in England and Wales, subject to certain conditions being met.

Protection from domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour

Under the Family Law Act 1996 the court can make a non-molestation order preventing one person using violence or harassing another person where all the circumstances of the case, including the need to secure the health, safety and wellbeing of the applicant or any relevant child, require it. In these cases, the court can also make orders to stop coercive and controlling behaviour. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse and emphasises that domestic abuse is not just physical violence, but can also be emotional, controlling or coercive behaviour and economic abuse.

Cases about child arrangements

Under the Children Act 1989 the court has jurisdiction to make ‘child arrangement orders’ in proceedings between the parents of a child where the parents do not agree on issues such as with whom the child should live, how much contact should take place, which school the child should go to or whether they can move to live abroad with one of their parents. The cases can also involve grandparents and other relatives. These tend to be referred to as ‘private law’ children cases.

Cases about protecting children

Also under the Children Act 1989, the court can make orders in proceedings between a local authority, the parents of the child and the child, placing the child under the supervision of the local authority or placing the child in the care of the local authority. These orders are made to protect the child where the child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm. Before making such orders, the court must be satisfied that they are in the child’s best interests and necessary and proportionate.

Cases about adoption

In cases of last resort, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 gives the court the power to make a placement order, authorising the placement of a child for adoption and an adoption order, making the child the legal child of their adoptive parents.

Cases about child abduction

The Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985 puts the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction into English and Welsh law. The 1980 Convention provides a means for securing the return of a child who has been wrongfully removed to, or retained in, England and Wales from their country of habitual residence.

Cases about human fertilisation and embryology and surrogacy

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 governs cases about the legal parentage of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos, for example by way of surrogacy. The Family Court can make orders identifying a person as the parent of a child born by way of surrogacy.

Cases about forced marriage and female genital mutilation

Under the Family Law Act 1996 the court may make an order for the purposes of protecting a person from being forced into marriage, or from any attempt to force them into marriage, or an order protecting a person who has already been forced into marriage.

Under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 the Family Courts can make a female genital mutilation protection order for the purposes of protecting a girl against the commission of a genital mutilation offence or protecting a girl against whom such an offence has been committed.

Cases under the Inherent Jurisdiction

In certain cases the Family Division of the High Court can still make a child a ward of court in order to protect the child. Under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court, the court can also, for example, authorise medical treatment for a child or the withdrawal of medical treatment for a child where a dispute arises between the child’s parents and treating doctors, or to restrain or permit publication regarding court proceedings.