How long does a custody battle take?

  1. Introduction
  2. What is a custody battle?
  3. How long goes the average custody battle take?
  4. What factors influence how long a court case will take?
  5. What causes delays?
  6. Things you can do to avoid delays in your custody battle.
  7. Conclusion


It can seem like a bit of `how long is a piece of string’ question, this.

Every court case is unique and there are a huge number of factors that can influence the length of a case. To make things even more unpredictable there are 101 different random and unpredictable factors that can come into play that will change things in an instant.

That said, there are things that can and make a difference that you can predict.

In this post I am going to list and discuss them. Then I’m going to say what your options are to ensure they don’t last any longer than they have to – because a court case can be unpleasant and it can feel lik your life is put on hold while you wait for what happens to your children is decided.

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What is a custody battle?

First of all – this being a legal blog – we need to be clear about terms.

I use the term `custody battle’ to mean a child case.

I’ve said in other blogs that there is no such thing as custody (assuming you’re in England or Wales and hasn’t been since 1989). Similarly, seeing it as a `battle’ is probably not the best way to look at things – because by their nature battles are aggressive, competitive and encourages a `winner takes all mentality’ you really want to avoid if at all.

Nonetheless, people google questions that involve the phrase `Custody battle’ – so here we are!

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How long goes the average custody battle take?

We’d say the short answer is around 18 months.

Want to avoid delays in your custody battle?Although more recent data says it is 61 weeks (just over 15 months) according to CAFCASS for private law cases and 46 weeks (11.5 months) for public ones.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that most cases last around that time either. They can be shorter or longer. And as the courts become increasingly backed up with an increase an applications as things stand it is only going to increase as time goes on.

It’s typical for there to be around 5 hearings with more than one judge (or magistrates) too. If you’re hoping to read that your case could be over in 1 hearing, you’re probably going to end up being disappointed. While that is theoretically possible, it is pretty much unheard of.

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What factors influence how long a court case will take?

As I’ve already said – there are a huge number of these. They fall into three main categories:

  1. Factors out of your hands that you know about, but can’t avoid.
  2. Random things that happen that you can’t possibly predict.
  3. Things you can do and say that will reduce or increase the length of the case.

The Court wants a short case; it understands that some delays are wholly avoidable. Others…not so much. Because avoidable delay is not in the best interests of your child: It is unsettling for your children and everyone else concerned. Having a court case hanging over your head is not conducive to a happy childhood or your abilities as a parent.

It needs to be said, that some litigants want delay of course. They include parents who are happy with the current situation, those who wish to establish a status quo they will refer in court, those who wish to punish and ex partner and those who feel paralysed by it all.

Regardless of whatever you feel suits you – and your child – a case should be as short as possible.

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What causes delays?

Let’s go into details of the sort of things that cause delays.

Factors out of your hands that you know about, but can’t avoid.

  • Waiting for reports from the police, doctors, schools, CAFCASS, Social Services, etc.
  • Waiting for court hearings to take place.
  • Waiting for court hearings to be listed.
  • Waiting to see how things play out – i.e. an interim contact schedule.

Random things that happen that you can’t possibly predict.

  • An unexpected application by your ex partner/social services.
  • A child expressing something that is unexpected.
  • The child being moved away without warning.
  • An ex partner suddenly breaking a court order.
  • The outcome of a report that you didn’t see coming.

Things you can do and say that will reduce or increase the length of the case.

  • Making sure relevant information is available and easily accessible.
  • Doing research on contact centres, schools, locations to make it easier for an order to be made.
  • Engaging meaningfully with people and organisations to make things easier.
  • Obeying orders.
  • Responding to requests for information accurately and quickly.
  • Being flexible.
  • Getting – and taking – good advice.

There are many more of course. The point here? There is a lot you can do to reduce delay, even if there are things you cannot change.

You have options.

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Things you can do to avoid delays in your custody battle

As I say in the last paragraph – you have options.

While there are indeed things you can’t control, you’d be surprised by how many things you can do to make your life – and your child’s – as easy as possible to ensure that matters are resolved in a short a time as possible.

If you have a solicitor, they should be alive to these facts and be proactively dealing with them so you don’t end up sitting in court with a judge saying to them `Why didn’t you think of this?’ (or you thinking it). Many of these points can – and should be – anticipated. Having the right information available will only ever assist the court to make a decision or move things forward. And many of the things a hostile ex-partner – or someone who doesn’t want a case to move forward – are utterly predictable to anyone who has worked in the family law system meaning many of the hurdles put in your way can be anticipated and avoided.

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The court system is slow, clunky and inefficient. But it does work and it can be navigated. If you’re new to it, it is entirely understandable that you wouldn’t know the seemingly labyrythine inner workings of the family law system however – which is why a good solicitor or McKenzie Friend is worth their weight in gold.

There are delays you can do absolutely nothing about and you may well be infuriated that such an urgent and important matter can be treated with so much apparent indifference. But there are plenty of things you can do – and these are the things you should focus on.

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