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Skeleton Arguments

What is a skeleton argument?

A skeleton argument is a document which identifies, for both the parties and the court, the relevant matters for the court to consider which the parties disagree upon, and also those matters upon which the parties have reached agreement.

A skeleton argument is, as the name suggests, an outline of the case before the court and matters to be considered. The detail of the arguments will be made orally, in person, before the court.

When might I need to prepare a skeleton argument?

Skeleton arguments are prepared for contested or final hearings and for appeal hearings. If you are legally represented, your solicitor or barrister will prepare this document.

What should a skeleton argument include?

A skeleton argument should include the following information (and we suggest you use these headings e.g. the text in bold and underlined). Our suggested headings are simply that, our suggestion, but will help give some structure to your skeleton argument:

  1. Nature of the Case/Background: the first section should set out what the case is about including any relevant background facts and a summary of what the parties agree upon, and what matters are still unresolved which the court must decide upon;
  2. As an example: The parents separated on 10.06.2010. At a hearing before Mr Justice Blenkinsopp on 21.01.2011, interim contact was agreed. The matter of the father´s application for shared residence and the mother´s counter application for sole residence is not agreed.

    What you write should be concise and brief e.g. Father wants this, mother wants that.

    This section should ideally be no more than a couple of paragraphs.

  3. Points of Law: the second section should provide the judge with details of any points of law (legal precedent) which exists and which might guide the court´s decision. You can refer to earlier judgments made in the High Court and Court of Appeal (commonly called case law) to find relevant points of law. Use the most recent piece of case law and the point of law contained within to support your argument;
  4. As an example, if your child was refusing to see you, the child was young, and it was believed that the parent with whom the child lives was influencing them, you may wish to cite the case TE v SH and S [2010] EWHC 192 and the trial judge´s observation:

    "It would be ... inappropriate proceed on the basis that expressed wishes and feelings should necessarily be taken at face value. They need to be assessed in the light of [S´s] age and understanding. The impact of alienation upon the reliability of those wishes and feelings and the signs (albeit modest) that they may not in fact reflect his true feelings, are matters to be taken into account when assessing the weight to be attached to them"

    Within our family law app, you will find a menu of case law which you can refer to when writing this section. We have included a brief summary of points of law contained in those cases and the full text of judgments in both on screen and printable formats.

    Case Law Menu

  5. Submissions of Fact: the third section would provide a brief outline of the main arguments. Refer to facts included in the evidence (e.g. referring to information contained within statements, any welfare reports etc which are relevant and relate to the issues before the court). Again, remember this is a skeleton argument. Be brief and only include what is essential.
  6. As an example: The mother told CAFCASS that the children are nervous of their father [D146]. CAFCASS have observed the children in the father´s care, and comment on the close bond between them (then give a reference to the CAFCASS Report, including its page and paragraph number within the court bundle... e.g. [D147 para 3]

    In the above example, the reference D would be the section of the court bundle, and the page numbers mentioned (e.g. 146 and 147) would be parts of the CAFCASS section 7 report and the page number from the court bundle.

  7. Summary: Set out clearly what it is you want the court to do e.g. ´The father asks the court to grant a Child Arrangements Order, with the children to live with him on alternate weekends and on each Wednesday overnight, and for half the holidays.

  8. Include a line at the end of the document which says ´Skeleton argument prepared by (and type your name) acting as a litigant-in-person´.

  9. Reading List: a list of the documents which you recommend the judge read before the hearing. You should ideally include an estimate for the time it will take to read these documents. While the reading list need not be included as part of the skeleton argument, you should ensure that a reading list is filed at the same time. Include the citations for case law which you will be referring to, and include a hard copy of the case law in the court bundle if you are able to obtain a copy. Many items of case law can be accessed via our case law menu.

Do you have any tips on formatting?


  1. Paragraphs: The skeleton argument should have numbered paragraphs. Keep paragraphs concise.

  2. Font and size: Times New Roman 12 is ideal.

  3. Line spacing: Set line spacing at 1.5 times which makes the skeleton argument easier to read.

  4. Margins: Set the left hand margin to at least 2.5cm. A copy of your skeleton argument should be included in the ´court bundle´ (a file containing all the case paperwork which either you or the solicitor acting for the other parent will need to provide for the court´s use).

  5. Page Numbering: Include page numbers in the top right hand corner of each page to correspond with the page numbering in the ´court bundle´. The page numbers can be written in by hand (and ideally in pencil in case other documents are added at the last moment or you and the other party´s legal representatives ask for something in the bundle to be amended or removed.

  6. Keep it Brief: Use abbreviations wherever possible. Do not argue the case at length in your skeleton argument (you do that in court). It should be no more than 20 pages. Keep it brief!

Michael Robinson © 2014

Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales

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