Guide to the law

Understanding the law in England and Wales

How are things normally decided about children?
When parents split up, they normally, given time, agree on arrangements for children and other matters. Sometimes they speak to solicitors and when there are problems they can then speak to mediators. These are trained people who are used to helping families decide about their problems when they are splitting up. Mediation is probably better than going to court under normal circumstances as it is often cheaper and any agreement that is made by parents has more chance of being kept. As you are now a young person, your opinion could be taken into consideration.

What happens if parents can't agree about arrangements?
But sometimes parents are not able to agree where you will live or how often you will see each other and then specially trained people such as judges, magistrates, solicitors or social workers may need to get involved in sorting out the situation.
An application about you or your family might go to family court, a court that makes decisions about children and young people. It is not a criminal court because that's where people go who have done something wrong.

What happens at court?
The court will ask a person from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court
Advisory and Support Service) to speak to you. People who work for CAFCASS are called either Children and Family Reporters or Children's Guardians.

You may be wondering about the following questions:

  • What are family courts?
  • What does CAFCASS do?
  • Who will come to see me?
  • What will the Children and Family Reporter do?
  • What will the Children and Family Reporter ask me?
  • Is what I tell the Children and Family Reporter private?
  • Do I have to go to court?
  • Can I go to court if I want?
  • What will happen in court?
  • Will the court do what I want?
  • What will the judge do?
  • What is a Residence Order?
  • What is a Contact Order?
  • What other orders can the court make?
  • Will my brothers and sisters be split up?
  • What happens after the court case is over?

See CAFCASS website for courts and teenagers in divorce (Welsh language also available) to see answers to the above questions.
If you would like to read further legal details about contact and residence, please click on:

The Law in Scotland
In Scotland, the law is different.

How are things normally decided about children?
This information is from the Law Society of Scotland website
If your Mum and Dad split up, it can be a very upsetting time. Because you are so closely involved, the law expects your parents to ask you what you think, before they take any big decisions affecting your life, such as the parent you live with.

What happens if parents can't agree about arrangements?
If parents can't sort things out themselves, they will probably go to a lawyer and might have to ask a court to decide what should happen. If a court is involved, you have a right to tell the Sheriff what you think, before any court order is made. Court orders could say where young people were to live, and how often they should see parents who don't live with them.

There are different ways you can tell a Sheriff what you think and the Sheriff will explain how you can make your feelings known. You may, for example, be given a Court form to complete or you could tell a Court reporter. A reporter is an independent solicitor who is appointed by the Court to help you. Alternatively you could have a solicitor that you have appointed to speak for you.

How can I get a solicitor?
The Scottish Child Law Centre www.sclc.org.uk has a leaflet about this. Call them FREE on 0800 328 8970. If you are in a situation where you feel you need legal advice, it may help you to know that even if you are under 16, you have the right to see a solicitor. If you are age 12 or over, the law assumes that you are old enough to have a solicitor, but this does NOT mean that younger children can't have a solicitor.

The Scottish Child Law Centre can put you in touch with solicitors who deal with child law. Call them free on 0800-328-8970. The Law Society of Scotland http://www.lawscot.org.uk can also help. You can either call them on 0131 226 7411 or search on their website above for Accredited Specialists for solicitors who specialise in Child Law.

Who pays the bill?
The government will usually pay the bill when you have a solicitor. You will have to fill in a form and sign it. The solicitor will ask you about any money you have in your own name. Remember it does not matter how much your parents earn - the government is only interested in YOUR money.
Anything you tell the solicitor is confidential - i.e. it is a secret between you and the solicitor, unless he thinks you are in immediate danger.
Solicitors can help you to claim financial support. They can help if you are in trouble with the police or if you are going to a children's hearing. They can write letters for you, speak in court for you, or just explain what will happen in different types of cases. The Scottish Child Law Centre has a leaflet about having your say in court. Order it free from them on 0800 328 8970.

The Law Society of Scotland (c)

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