Jurisdiction is governed by CA 1989, s.92 and FPR, rr.4.1 to 4.28. The Act confers concurrent jurisdiction on the family proceedings courts, the county courts and the High Court, although the Children (Allocation of Proceedings) Order 1991 (as amended) (‘the Allocation Order’) specifically states where certain applications should be commenced or transferred.
The Allocation Order defines three classes of county court, namely:

  • Divorce County Courts – which may hear private law applications except contested applications under CA 1989, s.8.
  • Family Hearing Centres – which may hear private law applications, whether contested or not.
  • Care Centres – which may hear both parties and public law applications.

A list of the divorce county courts, family hearing centres and care centres is set out at Appendix 1. The principal registry has jurisdiction as a divorce county court, family hearing centre and care centre (art. 19). Lambeth County Court and Woolwich County Court may both hear applications under CA 1989, s.8 despite the fact that they are neither divorce county courts nor family hearing centres (art. 20).

In the county court, specific classes of judicial officers have been nominated to hear family proceedings (defined below) by virtue of the Family Proceedings (Allocation to the Judiciary) (Amendment) Directions 2002. The Directions apply, inter alia, to private law proceedings pending in a county court or in county court proceedings in the principal registry.

‘Family proceedings’ are defined by CA 1989, s.8(3) and (4) as meaning any proceeding under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court and any proceedings under the following enactments:

  • CA 1989, Pts I, 11 and IV.
  • MCA 1973.
  • Adoption Act 1976.
  • Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates’ Court Act 1978.
  • MFPA 1984, P III.
  • The Family Law Act 1996.
  • Sections 11 and 12 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

Although not included within CA 1989, s.8, proceedings under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, s.30 are also family proceedings (section 30(8) of the 1990 Act). The section, which only applies to married couples, deals with cases where a child is genetically the son or daughter of the husband or wife, or both, but is carried by a surrogate. Applications for a ‘parental order’ must be made within six months of the birth of the child (s.30(2)).

Section 41 of the MCA 1973 provides that in any proceedings for divorce, nullity or judicial separation, the court must consider whether it should exercise any of its powers under CA 1989 in respect of any child of the family (as defined) to whom the section applies.