Divorce, money and children – three strands in one.

Divorce? It’s easy to forget: Not everyone has the same area of expertise as you and doesn’t take for granted the same stuff.

We’re called `Family Law Assistance’. Because unsurprisingly enough…we assist people with Family Law. It’s something we deal with on a daily basis.

Divorce consists of the divorce itself, financial arrangements and can involve children.

But despite the bulk of our work concerning children, arrangements concerning them is just one of the three different strands (if you’re married) that need dealing with.

These three strands are:

  1. The divorce itself.
  2. Financial arrangements.
  3. Child arrangements.

How these are dealt with depend on your own particular situation. Things like…do you agree on them? Are you amicable? What the circumstances of your situation? What is the situation with assets? Liabilities? At least two of them can apply to unmarried couples too (for our more legally minded friends we’re talking about TOLATA and Schedule 1 Applications).

Timing is crucial too…so it’s often a case of judgement and not simply knowledge of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 or what forms to fill in and how.

The three strands of divorce: Spot the odd one out

OK, OK. Bit of a trick headline there.

But the court really wants you to agree on things without it having to get involved as much as possible. They’re overstretched, under budgeted and besides…you’re much more likely to stick to an order if you are actually happy with it – which is where agreement comes in.

But for the sake of drawing a line on a marriage there does need to be a certain amount of paperwork.

So there does need to be a piece of paper that says you’re actually divorced.

And there needs to be something that says you’re not the financial liability or beneficiary of your (now ex) spouse’s money woes or otherwise.

Children though…agree the arrangement between yourselves and it’s not the business of anyone else’s. You can (and should!) work with your ex partner to raise your children as best as you can despite going your separate ways.

You don’t need an order for your children. You don’t need use to help you with that if you agree with your ex and you don’t need a solicitor.

Divorce: The wrap up

The take home from this post is straightforward:

  1. When most people talk about `divorce’ the usually mean the whole lot – divorce itself, money and children.
  2. Unmarried people can (but don’t have to) deal with money and children.
  3. Agreeing stuff is better, faster and cheaper than involving us or a solicitor.
  4. It is possible.

As always…keep things amicable where ever possible!

Witnesses - need to witness and not repeat hearsay

Witnesses and witness statements. Are they worth it?

Witnesses need to have first hand experience of what they're talking about - not hearsayWitnesses: My friends have written me witness statements I want to show the court

It’s a phrase we often hear at just about any point in a court hearing when discussing witnesses. And it’s entirely understandable. You are hurt, angry and worn down by accusations you know aren’t true. Statements and letters from your ex partner’s solicitor list words and actions you know have no basis in truth.

A witness statement defending your good character can only help, yes?

Like we say…we’re not going to blame you for wanting to do this.

But.

It won’t you do you any good either

Think about it.

You have a chance to show the court documents that help even things out a little. To show you are well liked, decent, fair and a good parent and/or partner.

You’re not going to submit something that doesn’t say this though are you? You’re going to select something that backs up your position. And your closest family members will only ever write something nice in the first place won’t they?

The court won’t object to you submitting these statements of course. But it may well not pay them too much attention too.

There’s something worth reminding anyone who says they will write you a statement of something important too: They’ll need to be available to go to court to be examined on what they’ve written. By the judge. Or the other side’s solicitor/barrister.

You’d be surprised how many people change their mind when you do this. Many people suddenly realise they `don’t want to get involved’.

So are witness statements a waste of time?

The answer is black and white: No.

Witnesses can make a huge difference. We’ve known them to swing cases.

Here are a few things that make a good witness. You need someone who:

  • Isn’t an `interested party’. So no friends. No family members. Someone who is seen as neutral and `respectable’ by the court. The best witness we ever saw was the vicar of the church both parties attended. You get the picture.
  • Is prepared to wait around all day and then called into court to be cross-examined by someone who does it for a living and can ask some very tricky questions.
  • Actually saw stuff that is relevant to the case. Not someone who heard from you or someone else. Not someone who will say he/she has always been an awful person.

Should I use witnesses?

The truth is that in many circumstances there are few (if any) decent witnesses who are going to enhance the strength of a case. At best many witnesses add nothing and at worst muddy the waters and cause focus to be lost.

That’s not to say a good witness isn’t worth their weight in gold – they can be invaluable. But like many other aspects of handling your own case it is all about judgement.

Don’t sweat this, but keep your eye on the ball.

NB – there are another kind of witness you’ll find in court. Single joint experts – appointed by the court, but we’ll speak about them another time.

What do to when the ex won’t hand the children over

As with many questions relating to family law this is another subject surrounded by myths. Swallow these myths uncritically and you could seriously damage your case.

So it’s important to know what your options are and know the truth.

Calling the police won’t help – even if you have a residence order

It seems to be the reason that many parents actively seek a residence order (or more correctly these days an order that says the children lives with them) – because they think they can ring 999 and a car with blue flashing lights will race to the children and return them.

Pro-tip: They won’t.

At the most the police will visit where your children are and do a welfare check. That said there are two ways the police CAN remove children…

  1. The first is an Emergency Protection Order (a s34 order – under the Family Law Act). Note: You’re unlikely to get one of these just because your ex has retained the children. Making an application of this type without good reason is a spectacularly bad idea – and your ex hanging onto the children isn’t one of them.
  2. The police have `reasonable cause to believe that a child would otherwise be likely to suffer significant harm’ (under Section 24 of the Children Act). Again…phoning the police and hoping they return them to you won’t meet this criteria. And again it’ll likely cause more problems that it will solve. The police will most likely tell you that the most they can do and you need to speak to your solicitor and/or should consider an application to the courts.

This is because where children spend their time is a civil matter – and outside the remit of the police.

It’s worth noting that having a residence order means nothing when it comes to the above. We’re constantly surprised by the number of people who seem to think this is the case however and it seems to be a BIG motivation for many people applying for residence (or that the children `live with them’ as orders have it these days). We’re not sure why so many people seem to want a residence order but we have our suspicions

So what to do?

Well…if it’s a weekend and the courts are shut…not a lot. Like many other situations faced by this in the family court arena the answer is `It depends’. Factors include (but are not limited to):

  • It having happened before and is an established pattern.
  • You’ve been told that the children won’t be permitted to see you without an order.
  • There is a good/genuine reason for this happening.
  • What has happened before.

Your potential responses include:

  • Doing nothing.
  • Sending a letter/email saying you are disappointed the children have been denied time, etc.
  • Making an application to the court for enforcement.

The moral of this story…

…is…it depends’. The hard part isn’t knowing the law (although it helps), it isn’t knowing what your rights are. It’s about judging what is going to help you achieve your goals and what isn’t. Losing a `battle’ isn’t losing the war.

Keep your eyes on the ball and don’t get distracted.

Do you see blue sky or clouds?

What would you do if you had a fresh start?

What if? What if today was a new day and the past didn’t affect it? Or tomorrow? Or any other point in the future?

What if you felt free from the constraints that have left you tired, worried and drained? How would that feel? What would you do?

Is how you feel is your choice – or someone else’s?

It’s a good question. People will usually respond with phrases like `You can’t control your feelings’. Or My ex makes me feel like this’ or – and in line with what these webpages are actually about and what you’re likely here to gain a little insight in – `I’ve got a two day trial coming up and I am terrified my kids will never see me again how the hell do you expect me to feel???’

Like I say – it’s a fair point.

Backtrack for a moment…

Start small. What if you got a flat tyre? Would it ruin your day? Would you conclude being miserable the rest of the day benefited you? No? How about your favourite pet dying (remember – we have  too many cats here so we’re definitely animal lovers!) How long would you need to be utterly miserable to do them justice.

Or would you stick your head in the sand and hope it all gets better on it’s own?

How would it be if you could wave a magic wand and be OK with these things? Not happy necessarily…but OK – able to deal with the day to day stuff and move forward with your life and your plans?

What would you lose by doing this? What would you gain?

2019 is just around the corner. Exciting opportunities to join a gym, lose weight, stop smoking and be a better person and all that. But we all know that it’s just a number on a calendar don’t we? Today is always a good time to start. It’s a choice you can make. And only you.

Looking for answers on a blog post(!) is pointless if you aren’t the change you want. We can give you excellent case law. Help you fill forms in. Help you negotiate in a court hearing, deal with paperwork and tell you when to let it slide.

But it all comes from you.

If you’re scared by this prospect, or angered by it (thinking `I have no power’) ask yourself why you feel the way you do and what you would do if things were otherwise…

Full Moon Coaching

Empower yourself!

We’ve found this such a powerful and insightful tool for many of our clients that we’ve trained to help people with this sort of thing and started a new company. We’ve already helped people change their mindset when it comes to their lives and got some pretty spectacular results. We’re so excited about this we’ve started a new company because it’s not just about court cases and grind – it’s about something much more powerful:

You.

So make today count. Worry about Deal with tomorrow when it comes. And live in the moment.

When things can get no worse

Rock bottom

It can be a liberating, feeling things can get no worse. In the moment you feel that you’ve lost everything freedom awaits.

If your children are not seeing you at all – you’re not going to lose any more contact. If you’ve lost your home – it can’t be taken from you. If you’ve lost a relationship you deeply wanted – time will heal all.

We’ve been there.

But while you feel you are at the bottom it’s easy to feel like it is the end. It doesn’t have to be.

An open door - all you need to do is go through it

An open door – all you need to do is go through it

The end?

So it’s paradoxical. The moment you feel you have lost everything could and should be the moment you feel the slate has been wiped clean, you have nothing to lose and nothing you do is going to make anything worse (of course…act unwisely things won’t get worse but otherwise they can get better).

In the instant you could feel utterly powerless you could instead feel empowered like you have never been before.

`OK’ I hear you say – `What’s the point of all this?’ I hear you say?

Simple!

The beginning

…and the answer is…`It’s all up to you’.

Or more accurately – it’s all about mindset. It’s all about perception. It’s all about how you frame things. Of course, it’s easier said than done but it is possible. What would it be like if you were happy despite what was going on around you? What would it be like if you felt relaxed about the future and whatever it (or your ex) threw at you? What if?

Well…for a start we’d be out of a job here at Family Law Assistance. Because our clients’ cases would be shorter; they’d handle whatever they faced in a calm and calculated manner, they’d realise that most of what worried them in the past was just something to deal with.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

The power

You have the power. We can only show the door but you have to walk through it. And a great place to start is to come and meet us on Saturday, 19th January 2019 in Manchester. One day. Less than the cost of an hour with a solicitor or one of us attending a hearing with you. The cost of a great night out.

See you there. We’re truly excited about how the last workshop went in Newport and we’re looking forward to the next one – to see the transformation of the lives of those who attend.

What your ex partner thinks about you: Does it matter?

Does your ex partner control you by the power of their mind?

Does your ex partner control you by the power of their mind?

It’s not that surprising that many people worry about what their ex partner thinks of them. Some of the things they worry about includes:

  • Whether he/she thinks they are a good parent.
  • Whether he/she values them as a good parent.
  • Whether he/she sees them as an equal parent.
  • What he/she will think about various aspects of the child’s life. Food. Activities. Who they interact with.

There’s something worth remembering about this.

What the ex thinks doesn’t matter. What they do (if it affects your child and/or their relationship with you) does.

Your ex can think what they like

It doesn’t matter what they think. No…stay with me here.

They can think you’re a truly terrible person. To the right of Attila the Hun. Someone who spends his/her spare time twisting the heads off fluffy kittens or got a birthmark in your hair that looks like the number 666.

What they do on the other hand does…that’s a horse of a different colour as Michaela Wade is fond of saying.

And yet…many people give waaaaay too much airtime to what their ex thinks of them. It enrages or saddens them. Or makes them give up. Or make a decision about based purely on something that shouldn’t matter.

Even worse than worrying about what your ex partner thinks is trying to guess what they think...

Even worse than worrying about what your ex partner thinks is trying to guess what they think…

Mind reading

To compound matters – in many high conflict situations communication is limited too, absent or strained. This seldom helps. You. Your ex. Most of all your child. And what doesn’t help either is the interpretation people will do to try to understand what an ex partner thinks or means.

You’re suspicious. Upset. Hyper aware of the situation.

And now…not only are you worrying about what the ex partner thinks…you’ve decided what they’re thinking.

Despite all this, it’s actually good news.

You don’t need to care what your ex partner thinks

This is spectacularly good news for you. What your ex thinks doesn’t matter. What does matter is what they do. You have options if your ex acts against the best interests of your child. But you don’t have a crystal ball. You’re not a mind reader. You’re not able to control what your ex.

But you do have the power to control the way you think. And what you do.

You’ve got this.

If not…would you like to learn how?

A cloud on the horizon: What to do when you see it coming.

Out of the blue

We speak to a lot of people – not just our clients. A lot. Many of them appear to be in broad, sunlit uplands in terms of their relationships or marriages.

It’s understandable. Because admitting things aren’t good often comes with a sense of guilt, failure and shame. Furthermore there is (the not completely unfounded belief) that not everyone is interested. Douglas Adams used to say the best way to hide something was to hide it in a SEP (`Somebody Else’s Problem):

`An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot’.

All this means people tend to keep quiet about things until it’s kind of unavoidable. Besides if you ignore it maybe it will go away won’t it?

Out in the open

And so many people do nothing until there is no alternative. Or until it can’t be disguised. Like when someone has moved into separate accommodation from a partner and/or their children. When financial hardship starts to part. Or when they cannot hold back the emotions.

If the above are familiar things are already a way down the path. And almost always it’s too late to stop it. Your choices are to continue to do nothing and wait for the dust to settle or to take an active role in guiding matters.

Out of control

`Has he called you yet?’ a concerned friend or relative will ask us.

`Not yet’ is often our response.

`I keep telling him’ we’ll be told.

`We can’t help someone unless they’re ready to take that step and get in touch’.

The capacity for someone to stick their head in the sand is shocking.

By the time they speak to us – they feel there are no options and we’ll help them get the ball rolling. Mostly. Some of them vanish again only to appear six months down the line with the same situation, albeit grown larger and unmanageable. Some of them do this a number of times, each time with progressively worse news.

Out of the frying pan…?

And despite possibly hearing truths they don’t want to hear it can be assuring – that we can offer something they’ve been looking ever since things went south: The certainty that the situation can be managed. That there are others who know how it feels. That there can be a new start when all this is old history.

`I’m going to be able to sleep for the first time in six months’ we’ll hear.

But for the moment…you’re out there aren’t you? And you’ll stay there until your ready. You’re possibly alone. Reading this in an empty house at 3am wondering when you’re going to see your kids next. Or whether you’ll be living in the home in a week, month or year. Listening to Radio 4 change into the World Service via the tones of Sailing By.

You’ll walk around in a daze watching the happy families and wondering how the world can go on so utterly indifferent to the calamity you feel in your heart. You may laugh inappropriately. Cry without warning. Talk about stuff to people who have no business knowing it. And more.

We get it. It’s hard. The first step is always the hardest. But without you nothing happens. Making the first step is more powerful than you’d ever believe.

How to Live, Thrive and Survive in the Family Courts!

Self care - the elephant in the room in the family courtsSeeing the wood for the trees in the family courts

It’s easy to forget isn’t it? It gets lost doesn’t it?

Amongst the court orders, letters from solicitors and practice direction. Trial bundles. Waiting to go into court. All nighters preparing paperwork.

All of these relate to the case you’re about to embark on, are involved in, have been involved in. They’re the nuts and bolts. Your case may be about children. Money. Your relationship. Or something else.

You’ve likely given a lot of thought to all of the above but I’m guessing there is one thing you almost certainly haven’t considered.

And that’s you.

It starts and stops here.

It’s normal to feel like a passive figure in your own case. Maybe that’s because you have a solicitor and sit at the back while he/she outlines your position. Possibly it’s because it’s in the family courts for your children and it’s been impressed on you by everyone that it’s about them and it’s not about you. You may feel a bit like this.

It’s odd though isn’t it? You’re in court because of something that affects you massively. And yet you are…lost. You may as well not be there.

The missing 50%

Between us we’ve worked for over 30 years in civil litigation – that’s family law, contract law, CMS and employment tribunals (and more – Michaela was once asked to attend a mortuary in South London in connection with a will…but I digress).

And over the years it’s been very clear that dealing the emotional side is important. To the extent it can make or break a case. A large part of what we do is helping people see things in a perspective that keeps them focused, shows them it isn’t hopeless (it often isn’t – seriously) and possibly giving them a little light relief when it’s needed.

Your mental state is a huge part. It’s a make or break.

You’re at the centre

The bottom like is – look after yourself. Don’t forget you. I’m not going to provide a list of things you should or shouldn’t to do that – because you know. I’m saying that occasionally sit up and ask yourself `What am I doing to look after myself?’

Of course – if you need help doing that, get in touch. We’re running the first workshop of it’s type in the country to train people how to do this. We’re going to teach you some of the tactics we would if we were assisting you in court on Saturday, 13th October 2018 in Newport, South Wales. Michaela Wade will be leading this – as well as being one of the top McKenzie Friends in the country and a qualified paralegal she’s also a NLP Coach and hypnotherapist.

It’s the first of it’s kind and we’re massively excited to do this. It’s a game changer for you. For the cost of a meeting with us you’ll learn over a day tactics that will change your outlook on the legal process you’re enmeshed in and understand how to live, thrive and survive in the family courts!

See you there – don’t miss out!

Tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/live-thrive-and-survive-in-the-family-courts-tickets-48298292493

The Family Court – Does going in all guns blazing work?

The Family Court. It isn’t the legal equivalent of the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Yet it’s amazing how many people tell us they’re going in all guns blazing to win a sudden and decisive victory against an ex partner who has said and/or done things they shouldn’t have.

It’s a (depressingly) normal reaction to do so however. And for people like us – people who are trying to help you and have seen hundreds (thousands?) of people in the Family Court – it’s something we do our best to manage.

You won’t get what you want by being aggressive in the Family Court.

Don't treat the Family Court like the gunfight at the OK CorralIt’s amazing we have to say this. Especially as it’s all too common for allegations of aggression to be made. You’ve been accused of being aggressive, controlling and obsessive…so your response is to act aggressive, be seen to attempt to control the situation and to be obsessive over every email your ex has sent, every time they’ve turned out 5 minutes late…on a spreadsheet.

Seriously. We’ve seen this happen. And it doesn’t work.

It’s almost like the Family Court is designed to deal with people being awkward

So you go to court. You consider your case exceptional (of course it is – it’s a very personal subject). You think that with the force of your argument the court will acquiesce to what you are seeking.

Except it doesn’t work like that.

The court sees cases like yours day in, day out. The judge you are seeing may see dozens of people like you, saying the same sort of thing day in – day out. We do too.

The Family Court wants one thing

And that is? A resolution to your case. The best outcome is you working something out with your ex and you disappearing into a bright new future. Otherwise it wants to make a quick, easy and long term order that means you…disappearing into a bright new future. Which in the court’s eyes means you going away and not coming back again.

So what does this mean to you? Something simple:

Don’t be the bad guy who has nothing to offer the court other than dealing with your `fighty’ attitude.

Because if that happens…you’ll be disappointed. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t get to present all your evidence at the first hearing in all likelihood. You won’t get to prove your ex is a liar (even if it is relevant to your case and it probably isn’t). You won’t score a knockout blow.

So relax. Plan. Take it easy. Be patient!

5 things we’re always asked

McKenzie Friends: What we’re always asked.

We get asked all sorts of questions. Some of them are complicated, some are simple – it kind of goes with the territory of what we do on a day to day basis.

But we hear quite a few myths about McKenzie Friends – many of which are untrue. They confuse people so without further ado here’s a run down on the biggies.

Can you represent me?

No. Only a solicitor or a barrister can do that. Its’ worth thinking for a moment what being `represented’ actually mean in a court context. Here it means someone who can speak for you in court. Respond to other people on your behalf – write to your ex and/or their solicitor. Sign documents. Solicitors and barristers are officers of the court.

As that link says:

Although solicitors must fearlessly advance their clients’ cases, they are not “hired guns” whose only duty is to their client. They also owe duties to the courts, third parties and to the public interest.

So we can’t. We can offer you advice, help with paperwork, that sort of thing – but we cannot represent you. But over the decade we’ve assist people we’ve come up with a pretty good way of both following the rules about what we can do and providing you with the help you need!

Are you solicitors?

See above. Solicitors are officers of the court (see above). They’re legally qualified.

McKenzie Friends don’t have to be qualified either but some are (Michaela Wade is a CILEX-qualified paralegal). Others have a wide range of skills and experience.

Can you give me legal advice?

Yes! 4.) iv of Practice Guidance: McKenzie Friends (Civil and Family Courts) says a McKenzie Friend can `quietly give advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case’.

Our advice is based on our legal knowledge (as I say above our team includes qualified individuals) and experience of a large number of wide-varying cases over the years. We’ll tell you what we think the best action to progress the situation is – and you are free to follow or disregard it at any point. We’ll tell you what the court has the power to do and not to do, what the likely response of the court and others involved in the case will be and how to handle changing situations.

It’s really as simple as that.

Can you come to court with me?

Yes! We’re really not sure why people seem to think we can’t. We can! Speak to many legal professionals and they’ll be under the impression that is all we do – they think we’ll turn up on the day, sit with you and go away when the hearing ends (Pro-tip: We do a lot more than that!)

The only time we can’t be with you is during CAFCASS conciliation appointments (mediation before a hearing) – but neither can your solicitor be if you have one instead of us assisting you.

So we can be with you at all points – including when it comes to going into the court room to speak to the judge or magistrates.

Can I change the judge/CAFCASS officer/social worker?

Maybe. But seriously…99.99% of the time it isn’t going to work and it isn’t going to help trying. It’s understandable especially if things aren’t going the way you’d like. The processes to achieve this are there – but for obvious reasons they tend to be a lot harder than actually working with the system to get the desired result.

It’s important to look at the big picture too. Judges, CAFCASS officers, social workers – they often move on over the life span of a case so it’s quite possible that whoever you aren’t particularly enamoured won’t be involved before long in any case.

This last one is a controversial – I know. But it’s a fact. Court cases are hard. Fighting the people involved in the system is even harder and you should conserve your energy on your primary goal.

Wrap up

If you’re not clear on what your McKenzie Friend can do – ask. Read. Practice Guidance on McKenzie Friends is the definitive guide to what we can and can’t do. Anything else you’re reading is just rumour!