If there are already divorce proceedings then the application is issued in the divorce court. If the divorce proceedings have not yet been issued - or if there are no divorce proceedings, then the application may be made to any county court or magistrates' court that can deal with children matters.
The application is made using form C100 'Application under the Children Act 1989 for a residence, contact or other section 8 order'. The party making the application (the 'applicant') must complete the form by setting out some basic details of the parties and the children, what order or orders are being sought, and why. Once the form has been completed, it should be filed with the court, together with a copy for the other party and the court fee. Note that the C100 form has now changed, and now incorporates the FM1 form, which must be signed and completed by a mediator. You are also advised to attach a parenting plan to your C100. You must make sure your paperwork is in order, otherwise the case will not be issued by the Court. The court will then issue the application, fix a first hearing date and return one copy of the application, together with a notice of proceedings form and an acknowledgement form, to the applicant. The applicant must then send all three documents to the other party (the 'respondent'), and file a statement of service form with the court confirming when and where the documents were sent.
The respondent should complete the acknowledgement form stating whether they intend to oppose the application, file it with the court and send a copy to the applicant.
The first hearing will usually be a short 'directions' appointment, at which the court will want to find out what the issues are, and will decide what how the matter should proceed (see Step 3). Most courts will also expect the parties to be interviewed together by a CAFCASS ('Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service' - i.e., court welfare) officer, before going in front of the district judge/magistrates clerk. The CAFCASS officer will ask the parties what the issues are, and will find out whether the matter can be settled by agreement, whether then and there or through mediation (see Step 1). Sometimes, a partial agreement can be reached, for example a temporary arrangement for the children and returning to the court at a later date to see how that arrangement has worked. The CAFCASS officer will then report to the district judge/magistrates clerk, before the parties are called into court.
If the parties have reached agreement, then the court will decide whether an order should be made (see the 'no order principle' under Step 1), and if it is a complete agreement, then the proceedings will end there (although either party can go back to the court if the agreement breaks down or needs to be changed). For what happens if no agreement is reached, see Step 3.