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What is family law

Family law deals with legal issues within the family, such as divorce, probate or family violence. It also covers the care and treatment of young persons.

A family proceeding may or may not involve a dispute between parties:

Cases involving disputes

Family cases often involve disagreements between parties. These are called contentious cases. Disputes can occur over various issues. Common examples include disputes over divorce, maintenance of a spouse or child, or the authenticity of a will.

If an application is successful, the court may order someone to do something (such as to pay maintenance) or grant a certain status (such as divorce).

This is a private dispute. This means the state is not involved, except to provide the judge and court services.

Cases not involving disputes

A party may file an application to the court even if there is no disagreement with another party.

Examples include uncontested adoption or deputyship applications.

Note: Matters involving persons who were never married to one another (such as former boyfriends or girlfriends) or family members of a former spouse are not considered family cases. These cases may be either be civil cases or criminal cases, depending on the circumstances.

Examples of possible outcomes

Some examples of possible outcomes of a family case include:

For divorce

The marriage is legally ended.

For maintenance

One party pays another party money, either in a lump sum or on a regular basis.

For protection against family violence

A party is prohibited from committing family violence against a family member.

For probate

A party is named the executor of a deceased's estate, and is legally entitled to deal with the deceased's property according to the terms of the deceased's will.

For adoption

A party becomes the adoptive parent of a child.

Note: This list is not exhaustive. The court may make different orders depending on the case. Find out more about the types of family cases.

Who is involved in a family case

A family case usually involves the following:

Party who files an application

The party who files an application may be known as the applicant, plaintiff or complainant, depending on the type of case.

If the party is represented by a lawyer, the lawyer will be called their counsel. The counsel's role is to represent the party's interests. The counsel, however, also has an ethical duty to the court and cannot mislead the court in any way.

There may be multiple applicants, plaintiffs or complainants in a case. They may each pursue their own interests and do not necessarily need to cooperate.

(If applicable) Party against whom an application is filed

The party against whom an application is filed may be known as the defendant or respondent, depending on the type of case.

If the party is represented by a lawyer, the lawyer will be called their counsel. The counsel's role is to represent the party's interests. The counsel, however, also has an ethical duty to the court and cannot mislead the court in any way.

There may be multiple defendants or respondents in a case. They may each pursue their own interests and do not necessarily need to cooperate.

Judges and judicial officers

In court, proceedings are held before one or more judges or judicial officers. These officials are representatives of the state. They hear the arguments from parties and decide on the outcome of the case according to the law.

They are impartial and not for or against either side. You must address all judicial officials as "your honour" and obey their instructions when in court.

In the Family Courts and Youth Courts, your case may be heard by a district judge, magistrate or assistant registrar. District judges are more senior and can hear more serious cases.

In the Family Division of the High Court, your case may be heard by Judges of the High Court (Family Division).

(If applicable) Witness

A witness is someone who gives oral statements of facts in court or in a judge's hearing chambers. Find out more about being a witness.

Note
Family law focuses on ensuring a just and amicable outcome, and is not as adversarial as other types of law. As such, the court may be more involved than in other types of cases in attempting to facilitate such an outcome. Court mediators and court family specialist, who provide mediation or counselling services, are often involved in family cases.

Find out more


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