There are some situations in which it is desirable to go to court even in family law disputes and each case has to be looked at on its own merits. What is important is that you, the client, take advice from someone who can offer you all the options and help you to weigh up all the options given your own particular family circumstances. Of course the choice to go to court may not necessarily be yours and you may nonetheless find yourself there because your spouse/partner will not consider any other option.
Our court system is an adversarial system, which means that each side presents their case from the perspective of beating the other side. Judges are then left to decide between the two sides. The judge is bound to determine each case within the terms of the legislation governing the situation having heard the case presented by both sides. Accordingly, your family situation is fitted into the legislation rather than the legislation serving your family.
Most separations and divorces are sought and obtained in the Circuit Family Court. Circuit Court Judges are generally overloaded and have limited time to give to the consideration of any particular case. Going to court is also an expensive option and this expense will put added strain on the family purse which is now expected to stretch to two families rather than support one.
The majority of judges dealing with cases in the Circuit family court will encourage the parties to try and settle their cases rather than go forward in front of the judge. Judges know that the people best placed to know what is right for their family and best for their children are the parties themselves.
However, when you settle your case on the day of the hearing, you settle under pressure which is not the best circumstance in which to resolve matters in a considered way.
The District Court
This is the most accessible court as there is one in nearly every town of any size in the country. It is the court of first instance for many.
The manner in which family law is dealt with varies a great deal from court to court. However, an enlightened system in West Cork assigns a day to family law or sets aside special time for it on each court day. This ensures that family law can be dealt with in a more sensitive and friendly way.
The District Court deals with child issues, maintenance, and violence or abuse matters. The District Court, however, has no power to deal with property, pensions, or to grant separations or divorces.
The Circuit Court
The Circuit Court deals with the majority of separations and divorces. In Cork there is no dedicated family Circuit Court which sits every week. This means that it is not always possible to access the court speedily. It can take quite some time to get the matter to trial. When a case is listed before the Circuit Court it will be on a list with other cases also on for hearing on the same day. Accordingly, the amount of time that the court has to give to any case is limited.
The High Court
Family cases will also come for hearing in the High Court, though generally the cases dealt with in the High Court are cases which are cash and asset-rich. The High Court will assign the time to the case that counsel indicate to the judge it will take, and there will be nothing else in the docket for that time except the case.
The High Court does not sit in Cork constantly. While the High Court does go on circuit, meaning it travels to other cities around the country, every so often the majority of people will apply to the High Court sitting in Dublin, as this will turn out to be the most efficient way of disposing of their case. Clearly if you are coming from elsewhere this will serve to increase already substantial costs.