Written by Matthew Richardson

Barrister at Coram Chambers

Matthew's area of expertise include disputes between married and unmarried couples about children and finances, mental health issues, relocation and shared residence, 'parental alienation', children at risk, domestic abuse and surrogacy.

I am a specialist – akin to a consultant in medicine – with expertise both in a particular area of law (in my case family) and as an advocate. I give advice about a case and then help present it, both in writing and in court, in the most persuasive way possible.

Fundamentally the job of a barrister is to take the facts of a particular case, combine them with the applicable law, and arrive at a conclusion about the range of outcomes that can reasonably be expected and pursued. That conclusion – as well as the analysis needed to get to it – needs to be presented to a variety of audiences including my client and their solicitor (with whom a lot of preparatory work is done before a conclusion is reached), the other side and their legal team, and the court. Therefore, a substantial part of my task is to tailor the way the case is presented to the relevant recipient so that that specific person finds it as persuasive as possible.

The challenges of the job

In family disputes, what a parent may instinctively focus on is often not the same as what the court will consider to be central to the case. It is understandable that there is a significant degree of emotional content to a family case and a big part of my job is to help people move beyond their emotional reactions and get to the point of being able to focus rationally and sensibly on the key issues and the steps needed.

This is perhaps the key challenge facing a family barrister – taking account of the emotional content within a case in such a way as to recognise its validity and significance whilst at the same time not allowing emotions to dictate the approach or to detract from the careful legal analysis that is required, as in any other area of the law, by the court.

In a family case the most important person involved – in terms of the significance of the outcome – is neither my client nor the parent on the other side, but their child or children. An outcome hugely imbalanced in favour of my client may well not be best for the child if it means their relationship with their other parent is significantly undermined. Retaining a healthy degree of objectivity is important for a family barrister because there are times when the person that most needs persuading to change their approach is one’s own client.

My job is rewarding when…

…I am able to establish a trusting relationship with my client and therefore find out not just what they want but more importantly why they want it (which is vital to finding workable solutions for the future, because in fact most parents want the same thing – a happy and healthy future for their children) and deliver advice that is both heard and heeded.

… I am able to change someone’s mind and influence the outcome in a better direction as a result.

… The future for a family is brighter as a result of the proceedings than it was before. The family justice system is not just looking at what happened in the past and trying to compensate for it – it looks forward, unusually, with a view to making things better after the case is over.

Tips for parents

Do remember the vital importance of evidence. Unfounded allegations are unhelpful and expensive, and people often forget about the need to gather and present proper evidence to prove the things they say. There is an important difference between what is true and what can be proved, and the court can only be concerned with the latter.

Do constantly refer yourself back to the welfare of the child
- the key test – and ask whether what you are suggesting is based on it being best for your child or best for you.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to deprecate your former partner’s parenting in order to strengthen your own case. Legitimate criticism of poor parenting is one thing, but many people think taking any opportunity for making the other person look bad will make them look better by comparison. Often the opposite is true – focusing on faults can show an inability to see the positives in the other parent and an unwillingness to work with them as co-parents in the future.

Don’t forget that, even if you have a poor opinion of your child’s other parent, the likelihood is there will always be a relationship of substance between them. The court’s starting point is that a child has a right to a relationship with each of their parents and only in the most extreme circumstances will a court completely curtail a child-parent relationship.

    Did you find this useful?

    Thanks for your feedback. :)

    Can you tell me which of the following applies to you:


    Anything else to add?

    101 Question Answered About Separating With Children

    Now in its 2nd edition, fully revised and updated with COVID information it will help any parent going through a separation. More information here.........

    Read More >