What is a family court?
Family courts are special courts that deal primarily with family disputes such as divorce, validity of marriages, maintenance and the custody and guardianship of children. Family courts have to assist and persuade parties to arrive at a settlement when the case initially reaches the court.
The Family Courts Act of 1984 establishes family courts. The Act requires all state governments to establish family courts for every city or town area in the state whose population exceeds one million and in other areas as the state deems necessary. 763 family courts are functioning across the country as of December 2022.
The Family Courts Act does not deal with personal laws but is a procedural law dealing with establishing and functioning of family courts.
The official definition of family court
The Family Courts Act does not provide an official definition of what a ‘family court’ is. The brief on the family court scheme provided by the Department of Justice defines it as “a specialized court which will exclusively deal with family matters so that such a court may have the necessary expertise to deal with these cases expeditiously”. The brief further explains that family courts also provide a mechanism for “conciliation of disputes relating to the family” and to “have flexibility and an informal atmosphere in the conduct of proceedings". A crucial feature of family courts is that court proceedings can be conducted “in camera” if either of the parties or the court wishes to do so. This means the public will not have access to the courtroom where the proceedings are happening.
Family courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over:
- Determining the validity of the marriage
- Nullifying a marriage
- The restitution of conjugal rights
- Judicial separation
- Questions on the property of both/either of the parties to a marriage
- The legitimacy of any person
- Custody of or access to minors
Appearance in judicial databases
Department of Justice website
The Department of Justice has provided the following information regarding family courts on its website:
- Number of functional courts
- Number of cases disposed of during the month
- Number of pending cases
The onus to report data for these statistics is on the respective High Courts and State Governments which has been performed regularly.
While this data is sufficient to show a State-wise picture of the performance of family courts, more insights could be gained from accessing district-wise data.
Official district court websites under the e-courts mission contain a tab titled ‘Statistics’, but most of these pages do not contain any data.
In 2023, the Kerala High Court also introduced a Family Court Case Management Module which provides a case management system for judges and Chief Ministerial Officer (CMO). It includes a case allocation calendar to make scheduling easier and ensures that the cases allocated by the CMO to counsellors and mediators are available instantly, preventing delays. It also has a dashboard in place for High Court judges to monitor the case pendency in each Family Court.
On the e-courts mission website, it is possible to access the orders for cases disposed of and pending in the case status section. For instance, for the district court of Gurugram, Haryana it is possible to find orders for cases for maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 on the Hindu Marriage Act,1955 and cases under the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 which are all dealt by the Family Court. Note that most of these cases are anonymised and party names are given only as ‘XXXXX’ in most cases as shown in the screenshot below. However, case and hearing data on these cases is still available.
Family Courts of Madhya Pradesh
District courts can set up a system similar to that of the Family Courts website of Madhya Pradesh where district-wise, monthly data of family court cases disposed and pending are available.
Below is the Family Courts website of Madhya Pradesh displaying the number of cases filed and disposed of in Shahdol district updated as of 20 February 2024.
High Court of Tripura
The High Court of Tripura has a monthly list of a number of cases pending in family courts since 2016, it is updated every month.
Research that engages with Family Courts
Chanllenges and Solutions in Establishing Functional Family Courts in Different States, Administrative Staff College of India and a Ministry of Justice
This report is an empirical study focused on the effectiveness of family courts South-Indian states, namely Andhra Pradesh, Kerela and Telangana. It assessess whether the courts have held up to the expectations of a court with a cinciliatory approach rather than adverserial, and avoid multiple litigations. The report finds the courts falling short on various parameters such as accessibility without legal aid, the courts approach going against gender justice, infrastructural limits.
Report on the working of Family Courts and model family courts in India, National Commission for Women (2002)
The report prepared by the National Commission for Women as a result of a workshop. It delineates the working of family courts and the legal barriers that range from statutory lacunae to the de facto management in family courts.
- Section 9, Family Courts Act, 1984, available on: https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/16127/1/a1984__66.pdf
- Section 3, Family Courts Act, 1984
- Department of Justice, Family Court, available on: https://doj.gov.in/family-court/
- Department of Justice, Brief on Family Court scheme, available on: https://doj.gov.in/brief-on-family-court-scheme/
- Tahir Mahmood, Family Law in India (Eastern Book Company, 2023)
- Navya Benny, Kerala High Court Set To Inaugurate Various IT Initiatives On Monday, Livelaw (2023) https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/kerala-high-court-it-initiatives-inauguration-225845
- High Court of Tripura, Pendency of cases, https://thc.nic.in/monthly_Statement.html
- Administrative Staff College of India. Challenges and Solutions in Establishing Funcitonal Family Courts in Different States. available at:https://cdnbbsr.s3waas.gov.in/s35d6646aad9bcc0be55b2c82f69750387/uploads/2022/05/2022051733.pdf
- Poornima Advani et al., Report on the working of Family Courts and model family courts in India, National Commission for Women (2002). available at:https://ncwapps.nic.in/pdfreports/Working%20of%20Family%20courts%20in%20India.pdf