FindingofFact areyouthemonsteryouarepaintedtobe?

A litigant in person’s guide to a Finding of Fact (part 1)

Finding of Fact - a chance to deal with allegationsA Finding of Fact is the chance to deal with allegations you face

It’s a reasonable question we’re asked on a regular basis:

When do I get to tell my side of the story?

It’s not just a reasonable question either. It’s a normal response too! But as a litigant in person you need to understand the rules the court works to – which differ massively from the real world.

When I say `rules’ I don’t mean Practice Direction, CPR or the Children Act itself either.

What I mean is the fundamental way the court works. Attend a hearing and the judge/magistrates/someone else will hear from you and decide what to do. In child contact cases, etc. allegations are very, very common (I can count on one hand the cases I have helped out with out of the many hundreds where there haven’t been any).

The court will have seen thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. And it doesn’t have the time to investigate every single allegation made in every case. Seriously.

So when you attend a hearing and are accused of something the court has a few different options:

  1. Ignore them entirely.
  2. Ask you about them.
  3. Call a Finding of Fact.

Finding of Fact - are you the monster you are painted to be?In my experience options 1 and 2 by far the most common. If it’s number 1 you may well be left feeling short changed – you’ve had no chance to call your accuser out. But remember…in a child contact case the hearing isn’t about that. It’s about `the best interests of the child’. From your point of view it is by far the best option however. Which it means in effect is this:

  • The court has decided the accusations are stupid/false/irrelevant and not even worth responding to.

A `win’ surely?

Which incidentally should by and large be your response. Remember the mantra? `I refute all allegations‘.

Of course, if option 2 comes up you get the chance to say your piece.

So what happens at a Finding of Fact hearing?

If it’s option 3 and a Finding of Fact is called, that’ll be when you get a chance to respond. With the advent of the amendment of Practice Direction 12J it looks like Finding of Facts are becoming more common. How common remains to be seen but it depends on the allegation and view of the court before.

We’ll be covering the nuts and bolts of the actual hearing itself very soon…

Making people understand what Parental Responsibility can feel like shouting into the wind

Parental Responsibility and medical matters

If you have Parental Responsibility you are able to be involved in your child’s health

Dealing with Parental Responsibility can feel like bashing your head against a brick wall.

Simple, eh? Nice and black and white.

Unless you have a court order that says you aren’t allowed to contact your child’s doctor, etc. if you have Parental Responsibility you can discuss your child’s medical health without the permission of other holders of PR.

This is backed up in court if you say something like `The other parent won’t tell me about my child’s medical condition’ – you’ll be told you have PR and to go away and sort it out.

So off you trot…and hit a brick wall.

If you know the surgery you’re child is registered at the following phrases may be used:

  • `You need a court order’.
  • `I will check with the doctor and he/she will decide’.
  • `You need the written permission of the `main parent’.
  • `We can’t talk to you’.
  • `You need to speak to your solicitor’.

What do these phrases tell you? The honest answer…that whoever is saying them doesn’t know about PR or the Children Act. Or they’re acting without legal basis.

Parental Responsibility is meaningless to most people

It’s something you know about for obvious reasons…but the practice manager or receptionist sure as hell won’t. If you are in a particularly hostile situation they may well know about your `abusive and controlling nature‘ which means the children and your ex partner would be endangered if you’re given any information…

If you don’t know what surgery your children are in you have an extra hurdle: Namely, finding it.

In this case contact the Community Health NHS Trust and speak to the Caldicott Guardian who, knowing all about PR, Gillick Competency, court orders and the like will be able to furnish you with the information you desire.

Right?

Dealing with Parental Responsibility can feel like going round in circlesThe maze that is Parental Responsibility

Not as easy as that, sorry. Call the Community Health NHS Trust and as well as the `reasons’ you can’t be given the information you seek you may be met with incomprehension. And/or referred to the Clinical Commissioning Group for the area (CCGs are organisations that took over some of the responsibilities of the now-defunct Primary Care Trusts – in England…in Wales we have Local Health Boards). Chances are when you speak to the CCG you’ll be referred…to the Community Health NHS Trust you’ve just spoken to.

So round and round you go.

Unfair? Yes. Frustrating? Definitely.

Making people understand what Parental Responsibility can feel like shouting into the windHow do you solve a problem like Parental Responsibility?

Easy answer. Don’t give up. Don’t expect anyone to know the law – even if they should. Give up and the problem is solved – namely you go away and stop bothering them.

Speak to the bloke down the pub and he’ll tell  you this is why Parental Responsibility isn’t worth anything. It’s because he’s got annoyed and give up.

Will you?

Litigant in person. Court coffee isn't great.

4 more things that will never happen in court

In court some thing never happen…if you’re a litigant in person this guide may help

…and in the second post of it’s type we have another 4 things that’ll never happen in court. It’s important to be focused when you are in court. Important to know what the court can and can and can’t do. You need to understand too whether what you are asking is going to help in the scheme of things more make them worse.

So without further ado here are…

Another 4 things that (may) happen in your dreams but almost certainly won’t happen in court

As a litigant in person you are unlikely to see a unicorn in court.The court orders your ex to communicate with you.

Your ex has been ignoring you.  Refused mediation. Won’t respond to emails. Texts. Phone calls. Voicemails. You and your child are disadvantaged by the complete and utter lack of communication you’re facing. You’ve missed handovers, not known about medical issues or even the name of the new partner your child spends the bulk of their time with.

Why won’t it happen? Because the court cannot order communication. It can only suggest. Advise. Say it is in the best interests of the child. But it cannot force it to happen.

 

Being a litigant in person ain't LA LawYou feel utterly vindicated when walking out of a hearing.

We all love courtroom dramas. We’ve seen LA Law, Judge John Deed and Suits. It’s your day in court. It’s glamorous, it’s exciting and you’ll walk down the large steps of a large neoclassical court house to punch the air and know that in this world there is justice out there.

Except you won’t. It’s not a time for victory. Chances are that even if you get everything you set out to achieve it’ll be a Pyrrhic victory and you’ll ask us `Why couldn’t we have done this without the fight?’

 

Everything goes to plan.

You arrive for your first hearing. The Schedule 2 letter is there. The court orders statements to be exchanged by a certain date. A bundle is ordered. Practice Direction is adhered to strictly and to the timetable is too. You go into court the right time.

Don’t be surprised when this doesn’t happen. The more cynical would say timetables, deadlines and Practice Directions are as Captain Jack Sparrow would say…`the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules’. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t expect there to be any consequences for things not going to plan.

 

Litigant in person. Court coffee isn't great.You’ll get a great cup of coffee.

OK, you got us. It does happen. Sometimes. The Royal Courts of Justice has a Costa (if you like that sort of thing). But if you’re lucky expect a machine that looks like a prop from `Life on Mars’. With brown fluid that comes out when you press the coffee button. It’s as good as it gets though…

 

Litigant in person: Focus is your greatest tool.

As always this is all about focus. I know. You’re bored of hearing it and we’re bored of saying it. But choose your battles. Know your target. Don’t die on that hill. Be clear about what you want and what can be done.

Represent myself? It's not doing a jigsaw puzzle!

I can’t represent myself? Yes you can!

Represent myself? I can’t do that!

Can I?? <Insert stuff about legal professionals, highly complex law and you not being up to it ;-)>

This is something we hear often. It may surprise you but the reality is many people that decide to represent themselves do so for a number of reasons – not just cost. True…some do so because they can’t afford solicitors (starting at around £250 an hour) and barristers (prices available upon request) but it is true but a lot of people choose to do so because they haven’t felt they’ve been represented adequately in the past. The phrase `I sat there without saying a word while my solicitor/barrister ignored everything I’d told him/her and just agreed to stuff I didn’t want’ is fairly typical.

I am not taking away from the amazing work many solicitors and barristers do. But why would anyone want to represent themselves? Simple! They have the who, what, why and when on the tip of their tongue. If it’s a child contact dispute then no one is going to know their child better than you! If it’s finance case then no one is going to know what that £200 you withdrew law year more than you!

But I’m not allowed to represent myself am I?

Represent myself? It's not doing a jigsaw puzzle!You are. You have a legal right to do so.

Litigants in persons have got some stick over the years and have been accused of prolonging the court process. Sure, they need guidance on how court procedure – what forms to fill in, what to say in court, what they can and can’t do – but you can sure as hell bet you won’t want to be there if there is an alternative.

Courts are always a last-chance saloon. Aside from the fact that the coffee leaves much to be desired (although there is a nice cafe in Newport, Leicester has a passable canteen and the Royal Courts of Justice has a Costa stand) it is also an adversarial place. Tempers are frayed, emotions run high. There’s a good chance you are going to hear some not nice things said about you and you are undoubtedly going to feel frustrated.

As a McKenzie Friend I see this all too often. I’ve been doing it for too many years to be surprised about anything. I have seen people jumping on tables after a court hearing shouting “’It’s not fair” in a toddler style; I’ve seen grown men cry after being reunited with their children and I’ve seen a mother disintegrate on the floor after her child was removed from her care.

It’s fair to say that not much surprises me and I know how to react to drama such as this.

It also means I can provide some hints on good practice to make your legal experience easier and more successful.

Here we go.

Represent myself in court. 3 Top Tips

  1. Represent myself? Won't there be too much paperwork?Be Organised! Don’t stick all of those papers in the breadbin! Get yourself a lever arch folder and put all of your communication in date order. This will help you in the long run.
  2. Take someone with you. Preferably a Mckenzie Friend. You may be organised but that won’t mean you will be any less emotional. Ideally you need someone to be in the court room with you so that they can explain any “legalese” or tell you to wind your neck in or to tell you to get to the point. We specialise in kicking people under the table at appropriate points.
  3. Be focused: Whether it’s child or money matters keep it focused at all times. Don’t discuss things that aren’t relevant – and know what is relevant by understanding what matters to the court and what isn’t.

The truth is that this isn’t rocket science. If you’re organised, focused and calm you already have increased your chances of success without knowing any law whatsoever greatly. These are things that anyone can do if they are determined enough – and with the stakes potentially being so high you’ll have plenty of motivation!

How do I represent myself? Confidence is a good start!

How do I represent myself in court? How to do it in 2018

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

How do I represent myself? Confidence is a good start!

2018 – New Year, new you? Or the same old issues you feel chained to for many years to come?

It’s easy to feel powerless when you are involved in the family or other civil courts. Easy to feel a hostile ex partner pulls your strings, casts a shadow and dominates your day-to-day life.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Ask yourself `If I represent myself in court how would that help?’

Some good answers here:

  • Because you can.
  • You’ll empower yourself.
  • You will be stronger and more confident after doing so.
  • No one knows the case quite like you.
  • Or cares.

Oh…and you’ll save a lot of cash too. If that sort of thing interests you.

It’s normal to think your situation is unique. That your ex is doing new and inventive ways to break court orders and that he/she will continue to do so until Doomsday without any consequence.

But the truth is that nothing is new under the sun. Whatever your position someone has gone through it before and learned whether their response to it has worked or not.

You can learn too: Is what you’re doing working? Has it made things better? Worse? Or made no difference?

Represent myself? Some basics.

Represent myself? You can do it - but it's a marathon not a sprint.Put aside your feelings. Yes, I know it’s a bit Zen…in many cases we’re talking about your children here aren’t we? But if you are the sort of person who would do anything for your kids would that include keeping your mouth shut at the optimal time, focusing about your goals, being realistic about what you can achieve or not lashing out at anyone who is nearby and being patient?

You have way more power than you could ever imagine. And you are defeated only when you give up.

So make 2018 a year things change. Take control of your life. Take control of your own actions and know you cannot change anyone else. The information is out there.

It’s yours to lose. What you going to do different this year?

Commonlawmarriage likegoingtoseawithoutalifejacket

Common law marriage and partners in the UK.

Common law wife. Common law husband. Common law marriage.

Talk to enough people and one of these phrases is sure to come up. You’ll hear about how a common law marriage is identical in law to one where you’ve done it `officially’.

But it’s important to realise one very simple fact.

There is no such thing as common law marriage.

Common law marriage - like going to sea without a life jacket

Or a common law husband. Or common law wife.

If you consider yourself to have such a marriage…it doesn’t exist legally. Of course, while things are good and you are happy together it doesn’t make much difference so long as you’re both happy with it.

But when you aren’t happy – it does.

The piece of law relating to marriage is the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (or the MCA as it is often shortened to). As it says right at the top of it is

An Act to consolidate certain enactments relating to matrimonial proceedings, maintenance agreements, and declarations of legitimacy, validity of marriage and British nationality, with amendments to give effect to recommendations of the Law Commission

Among other things it sets out are how assets and liabilities are divided should worst come to the worst and you part from your beloved. Section 25 details the criteria and (should) provide for you to deal with things in an equitable manner. Factors the court will consider include length of the marriage, income, earning capacity, provision for children, needs, previous standard of living and many more.

Common law marriages are different

Namely because the MCA doesn’t apply. None of the factors are relevant because there is no marriage from a legal stance.

So what legal remedy would you have here?

Erm…none.

A common law marriage is a gamble when it comes to separation.That’s not exactly true because there are a couple of things you can do. But compared to the relative protections of the MCA but it is not as expansive.

It’s possible to make a claim under TOLATA for example – such as you proving you have an `interest’ in a property. Or if you’re a parent of children and you’re making a claim under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1973.

But it’s not black and white.

Common law marriage?

So be aware of the situation you are in. There is no such thing as a common law marriage. Or a common law wife. Or common law husband.

If this is something that alarms you, it’s a good time for a surprise marriage proposal…good luck!

Unless you have Doc Brown as a friend `child custody' will never mean anything.

A very good reason why you shouldn’t ask for Child Custody

If you are going to be dealing with the family courts make sure you don’t ask for child custody. There’s a good reason for this.

`Child Custody’ has no legal meaning in England & Wales

In fact it has had no meaning at all since 1989 when the Children Act became law. That’s when the Berlin Wall came down, the first GPS satellite was launched and Back to the Future II was released. Great Scott!

`Child custody' went out in the same year the Berlin Wall did.So walking into a court and asking for Child Custody is on a par with trying to book a Pan Am flight to take you to East Berlin. At best you’ll get strange looks and told there is no such thing. At worst you’ll be sent away with nothing.

It’s no surprise though. The term is used elsewhere. But not in England and Wales.

Using the term `Child Custody’ is vague too. What does it mean? Does it mean whoever gets it doesn’t have to let the kids see the other parents at all? Or stay overnights? Or is able to call the police and get them back at any point (you can’t do that with modern orders by the way).

You can hardly blame the court if you aren’t clear about what it is you want. You’ll likely be asked as a litigant in person but you’ll also probably get something you didn’t expect and don’t really want.

Be clear about what it is you want and what the court can and can’t do.

Unless you have Doc Brown as a friend `child custody' will never mean anything.Don’t ask for something the court can’t order. If you want `residence’ (another term that no longer has a legal meaning but is snappier than describing who the children live with’) know what it means. Hint. It has nothing to do with how long your kids are with you and the ex.

If you want contact (again…a redundant term but like `residence’ still understood by the court) make it clear. And understand that the two are independent of each other. And complicated by the fact that being a resident or non resident parent again has no bearing on either of the previous too…

So be clear what is you want. Make sure you know what terms to use and not to use. If you don’t and you don’t like the result it’ll be no surprise if the unexpected happens.

The Family Law Assistance Advent Calendar. Learn how to represent yourself with our video guides!

Represent yourself – the Family Law Assistance Advent Calendar

Represent yourself in court. Speak to some and there will be a sharp intake of breath and a suggestion that doing so is like doing DIY brain surgery or trying to launch yourself to the Moon in something you knocked up in the garden shed. Experts and our learn’d friends will counsel you not to do so and to seek the assistance of a professional.

The Family Law Assistance Advent Calendar. Learn how to represent yourself with our video guides!And yet plenty of people do it and do a good job too. This includes some of our team members. As well as our clients of course.

It isn’t impossible to represent yourself.

Neither does it have to be hard. It can be. Some cases can be tricky. Or the stakes are higher than some. Parental alienation. Leave to Remove. That sort of thing. That said…we help enough people to know that’s also more than possible.

It’s also a myth that people representing themselves do so as a `last chance saloon’ – that they can’t afford a solicitor or barrister so they have the tempting option of either doing it themselves or walking away from something they can’t walk away from. Many do so because they feel that no one knows their case like they do or cares as much and they’re right.

Learn how to represent yourself with our video guides

With this all in mind Michaela Wade will be posting a video each day – maybe a minute or so with the nuts and bolts on what to do, what not to do and how to do it when you are representing yourself.

She’s doing it from Facebook live from our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/familylawassistance. The first one starts on the 1st December – that’s this Sunday. Look forward to seeing you there!

Represent yourself with our help

Don't waste time in the family court

Wasting your time in the family court – 4 things not to do.

Don’t waste your time in the family court. You only have a limited amount of time to get your point across so make everything you do and say is relevant.

People often waste precious time, money and effort on stuff that won’t be relevant to their situation. Time, money and effort that would be better used in a focused manner.

4 ways to waste your time in the family court

1.) Submitting unprompted character references

Don't waste time in the family courtYou do not have to prove your innocence. Anyone who feels it is relevant needs to prove your `guilt’. Furthermore character references from family members, relatives, etc. are a complete waste of time unless the court has asked for them. And that is rare…

Think about it. Would you submit something to the court saying you are an awful person? From a loved one? Something that is going to damage your own case? Nope. And the court takes this as read.

2.) Labelling your ex

It doesn’t matter if your ex is a Narcissist. Or an awful parent. Neither is it relevant if he/she is a Parental Alienator.

Focus purely on the impact of your children of any inappropriate words or behaviour.

3.) Submitting irrelevant information to the court

Don’t dilute your own argument by talking about or sending the court information that has no bearing on the case. 238 pages of text message arguments doesn’t strengthen your position. It is more likely to hide relevant stuff among it all. It’ll likely make you look like an obsessive nutter too. Besides…bundles are restricted to 350 pages.

4.) Doing stuff because `it’s the principle’

Mountains of paperwork won't help in the family court unless it is relevantThis is the best way to get the judge/magistrates, the legal advisor, your ex’s representative and your ex to roll their eyes and mutter something obscene under their breath. The court isn’t there to deal with anything other than the best interests of your child.

It’s natural to feel like this of course.

But ask yourself when you do – `Does this matter? Is it in the best interests of my children? Am I making things harder with no tangible benefit?’ If the answer is `yes’ to any of these…think again.

Co parentingwithahostileex partnercanrequirepatience!

4 Top Tips if you’re co-parenting with a hostile ex-partner

Co-parenting with a hostile ex-partner?

Co-parenting with a hostile ex can seem impossible.`Really?‘ I hear you say? You’ve got an ex who will tell anyone who listens that you are like Vlad the Impaler – minus the sensitivity and kindness. That you like nothing better than spending your evenings twisting heads off kittens.

Easy for us to say, isn’t it?

But…it’s possible. It may feel it is possible in the same way winning the jackpot of the National Lottery is possible but it can be done.

It just takes a little more work. With no further ado here is Family Law Assistance‘s guide to 4 things you can do that will help:

1.) Rely on your ex as little as possible.

It’s worth remembering you are as much a parent to your child as your ex is. So act like it. If your child is in nappies buy them. With nappy bags, wipes, changing mats, etc. If they’re older make sure they have their own clothes (not just ones your ex bought) and everything else they’ll have at home (i.e. your place as well as your ex’s). If you have PR deal with your children’s school, doctor, whatever directly. Don’t use using phrases like `My ex didn’t tell me’. It is your job – not your ex’s.

2.) Remain child-focused at all times.

You may feel you are put in impossible situations, your kids losing out as a result. But it’s important to understand you cannot control your ex and that he/she is responsible for his/her own actions. Your duty is to your children.

If you feel you are put in a probably familiar `damned if you, damned if you don’t’ situation ask yourself `What is best for the kids here?’

Co-parenting with a hostile ex-partner can require patience!3.) Don’t rise to the bait.

Don’t get into arguments. If you feel your ex is attempting to provoke you  that makes you want to let them know exactly what you think…don’t.

You’d be shocked how long an ill-chosen reaction can be dragged up in conversation, legal documents and court hearings.

4.) Take the long view.

We won’t pretend it’s easy, fair or logical. But at some point all this will be old history. You probably won’t care. Your kids almost certainly won’t. Maybe your ex will…but your children won’t be subject to the Children Act 1989 and whatever they say or do will have no impact on you and you’ll have moved on to happier times.

Co-parenting is possible even with a hostile ex.

In conclusion it is possible. It is hard. But it is possible.