Children & the Family Courts (The Children (NI) Order 1995)

About this booklet

Who is this booklet for?

This booklet is for anyone who thinks that a court should make a decision about a child. In this booklet ‘child' usually means someone who is under 18. The courts make most decisions about children using a law known as the Children (NI) Order 1995. These decisions may be about:

The booklet will tell you how to ask a court to make a decision and help you decide whether to continue on your own or go to a solicitor (who may need to refer your case to a barrister).

This booklet will not help you to decide what to do or whether going to a court is the best way of helping the child.

Getting advice in your case

You may ask a court official for information but remember that court staff are not allowed to advise you what to do in your case, or what information to put on the forms. You can get advice from:

List of terms

Throughout this booklet, in court forms and documents, and at court hearings (if you need to attend court) unfamiliar terms may be used. To help you, listed below are some of the most common of these with an explanation. 

Appeal - a legal challenge to an existing court order.

Applicant - the person applying to the court for an order.

Application - the form used by the applicant to apply for an order.

Barrister - a legally qualified person who is instructed by a solicitor to argue the facts of the case in court.

Direction Hearing - an interim hearing when the court may give, vary or withdraw instructions needed for the case to proceed.

Discharge (of an order) - ending the effect of a court order.

Ex-parte Application - an application where no notice of hearing is required to be given to any person who may be affected by the result of application.

Family Proceedings Court - a court, which is made up of a District Judge (magistrates' court) who acts as chairperson of the court and two other lay panel members (one of whom should be a woman). Lay panel members are people who are suitably qualified to deal with cases involving children.

Fee - the sum of money paid by the applicant for their application to be processed.

Guardian Ad Litem - an independent person appointed by the court to give professional advice as to what, in their view, is in the best interests of the child.

Interim Order - a short-term order made by the court during the proceedings.

Joined Party - a person whom the court has decided should be included in the proceedings.

Leave - permission of the court to apply for an order.

Parental Responsibility - the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority which by law, a parent has in relation to a child.

Party - the applicant or respondent in a case.

Proceedings - the court process from lodging the application with the court office to the final hearing of the case.

Respondent - the person against whom any order applied may be granted.

Step Parent - a person who is married to, or a civil partner of, a child's parent who has parental responsibility for the child.

 Information and advice

Who may apply for an order?

Only certain people may apply for an order. You only have the right to apply if:

If you do not have the right to apply for an order, you must first apply to the court for permission or leave to apply for an order. The form(s) needed are listed later in this booklet.

What a court might decide

A court might:

Once a case has started a court may make other decisions. These include:

Where can you apply for an order

There are three different levels of court in Northern Ireland that can deal with family proceedings such as divorce, alimony, maintenance, adoption, care and supervision. The High Court is at the highest level, followed by County Courts and Family Care Centres (FCCs) and finally, Magistrates' Courts and Family Proceedings Courts (FPCs). You apply in the following way:

There is a list of courts, including addresses and telephone numbers at the back of this booklet.

When are these courts open?

Public counters in these courts (the High Court Office of Care and Protection, the County Court and FCC together with the Magistrates' Court and FPC) are all open from Monday to Friday between 9.30am to 4.30pm.

How much will it cost?

You may have to pay a fee depending on the type of application and court that you are applying to. The court staff will tell you if there is a fee and how much it is. This fee does not include the cost of using a solicitor to help you with your application. If a solicitor is helping you, he or she will tell you what their charges are and whether or not you are entitled to free legal aid.

What information do you need to apply to the court?

About the forms

What forms do you need?

This depends on whether you apply for:

If you do not want someone named on your application to know your address, or the child's, you do not have to put it on the application form. However, you will still have to give the address to the court and you will need to complete Form C5 in these circumstances.

You may also complete a supplemental form if you consider that a child has suffered or may suffer harm through seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another person by a party to the proceedings.

You can get the forms, which are free, from the court office or at When you fill in any form use dark ink because you will have to make copies of the form for each person you have named in the application. If you apply for an order for more than one child or for more than one order you may use the same form. The guidance notes that come with the form(s) explain how to complete each part of a particular form. If you need help filling in these forms you should go to the Citizen's Advice Bureau or an advice centre. Court staff cannot tell you what to write. If you have a solicitor, he or she will assist you.

What do you do when you have completed the forms?

You (or your solicitor) should take or post all the forms and copies to the appropriate court office together with the court fee (if there is one). The court office will check that you have filled in the form(s) correctly and will return one set to you (or your solicitor) within 5 working days, giving the date and time for the directions hearing.

If the High Court, County Court or Family Care Centre is hearing your case, you (or your solicitor) will have to serve the form(s) on the respondent(s).

If your case is being heard by the Magistrates' Court or Family Proceedings Court, the court office will arrange to have the form(s) served by a summons server. There will be a fee for this, which depends on the number of people and documents that have to be served with the forms. The court office will tell you what the cost of attempting to serve your documents will be.

If the address you gave for the respondent(s) is wrong, or the respondent has moved, you must find out the new address(es) as your case will not be able to proceed if the respondent(s) are not aware of the date of hearing.

What should you do if you need an urgent order?

If you think there are exceptional reasons, you may ask the court to consider your application immediately and without the form(s) being served on the respondent(s). This is called an ex-parte application. If the court makes an order, you will have to provide a copy to anyone affected by the order.

Any order made may only last a short time and the respondent(s) will be allowed to come to court at a later date to oppose the order.

Can I appeal against an order?

You cannot appeal against the court's decision just because you think the judge was wrong. You can only appeal if you have proper legal grounds; for example, if you can show that the decision was wrong because of a serious procedural error or irregularity. You should seek advice from a solicitor, law centre or advice agency.

About the hearing

How will the court deal with your case?

The court is unlikely to deal with your case on one occasion. At the directions hearing, the court will decide a timetable for your case. You, the respondent(s) and any solicitors or barristers present, will discuss your application with the judge This discussion will usually be held in private.

The judge may then decide any of the following:

You must attend all the hearings unless the court tells you otherwise. If you do not attend, the court may not be able to deal with your application.

If at any time you do not want to continue with your application, you should complete Form C1A and Form C2 for leave to withdraw your case, but only the court can decide whether this will be allowed.

Useful addresses and telephone numbers

The High Court
Office of Care and Protection
Royal Courts of Justice
Chichester Street
Belfast BT1 3JF
Phone: 028 9023 5111

Addresses of Family Care Centres

Belfast Family Care Centre
Laganside Courts
45 Oxford Street
Belfast BT1 3LL
Phone: 028 9032 6260

Craigavon Family Care Centre
The Courthouse
Central Way
Craigavon BT64 1AP
Phone: 028 3834 1324

Dungannon Family Care Centre
The Courthouse
46 Killyman Road
Dungannon BT71 6DE
Phone: 028 8772 2992

Londonderry Family Care Centre
The Courthouse
Bishop Street
Londonderry BT48 6PQ
Phone: 028 7136 3448

Addresses of Family Proceedings Courts

Ballymena Court Office
The Courthouse
Albert Place
Phone: 028 2564 9416
Ballymena BT43 5BS

Belfast Family Proceedings
Old Townhall Building
Court Office Court
80 Victoria Street
Belfast BT1 3FA
Phone: 028 9032 8594

Craigavon Court Office
The Courthouse
Central Way
Craigavon BT64 1AP
Phone: 028 3834 1324

Dungannon Court Office
The Courthouse
46 Killyman Road
Dungannon BT71 6DE
Phone: 028 8772 2992

Londonderry Court Office
The Courthouse
Bishop Street
Londonderry BT48 6PQ
Phone: 028 7136 3448

Newry Court Office
The Courthouse
23 New Street
Newry BT35 6JD
Phone: 028 3025 2040

Newtownards Court Office
The Courthouse
Regent Street
Newtownards BT23 4LP
Phone: 028 9181 4343

If you would like the court to make an order that is not in this table, you should get advice from a solicitor or a Citizen's Advice Bureau

  You may apply for the order if:                
The order you would like the court to make: you are the child's mother you are the child's father or step-parent and you have parental responsibility you are the child's father or step-parent and you do not have parental responsibility you have been appointed as the child's guardian you have an interest in the child's welfare the child has lived with you for at least 3 years during the last 5 years, and within the last 3 months the local authority which is caring for the child, has agreed that you may have an order you have a residence order that is in force (residence orders have replaced custody orders but are similar) you are married or a civil partner, or have been married or were a civil partner and regard the child as a child of the family you have the consent of everyone who has parental responsibility for the child   you have the consent of everyone who has a residence order for the child   you are the child (if you are under 18, you must get the leave of the court before you apply)
Contact Order (known as an Article 8 order) X X X X   X X X X X X X
Residence Order (known as an Article 8 order) X X X X   X X   X X X X
Specific Issue Order (known as an Article 8 order) X X X X       X       X
Prohibited Steps Order (known as an Article 8 order) X X X X       X       X
Financial provision X X   X       X X     X
Variation of an order for financial provision X X   X       X X     X
Discharge of an order for financial provision X X   X       X X     X
Appointment of a guardian         X             X
Discharge of the appointment of a guardian X X           X       X
Parental responsibility order     X                 X
Discharge of a parental responsibility order X X   X       X       X


Should you require any further information about the NI Courts and Tribunals Service please visit our website at or alternatively contact Communications Group.

Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service

Communications Group
Laganside House
23-27 Oxford Street
Belfast BT1 3LA
Phone: 028 9032 8594
Fax: 028 9072 8942
Textphone: 028 9041 2920

October 2012