A rose by any other name...as a litigant in person make sure you know what your statement is for,

Litigant in Person FAQ – putting together a position statement

As a litigant in person there is a lot to learn. Those choosing to represent themselves tend to do for 2 reasons – they either don’t trust anyone else to represent them in court or they are unprepared to pay the fees of a legal professional. Or both.

Either way, if you are a litigant in person you need to ensure that you learn quickly. Representing yourself and facing a solicitor representing the other party isn’t a level playing field and you need to do what you can to address this.

Of course, we’d suggest you use a McKenzie Friend

We also strongly suggest you put together a position statement, especially for non substantive hearings (i.e. the ones that tend to last more than an hour or two – Finding of Fact hearings, Final Hearings, etc.).

Litigant in Person 101 – Why a `Position Statement’?

A rose by any other name...as a litigant in person make sure you know what your statement is for,Firstly, don’t get hung up on what it is called. They are normally called a position statement but we’ve heard them described in various ways over the years. A rose by any other name and all that – it is what it does rather than what is is that is important.

The clue is in the title however.

It is a statement detailing your position. How you see things. It contains in a nutshell everything you would like the court to know. Nothing more. If you were to walk into a hearing and not say a word your position statement should be able to do the talking for you. Which is particularly useful as many litigants in person feel they do not get an opportunity to express their views.

However the court’s attitude to your position statement can be unpredictable

The reception your position statement will receive can vary dramatically. The response you can receive can range from being thanked by the court for providing it and making it clear how you see things all the way to it being handed back to you and being told you didn’t have the leave of the court, not to do it again and an order that says the same.

We tend to find they are received positively rather than negatively, but like many things in court there are no guarantees here.

On balance however we’d suggest they may be a good thing particularly if you insist on attending court alone (which as we repeatedly say is usually a very bad idea).

Litigant in Person 102 – How to write a position statement

Golden rules:

  1. Firstly, no more than 2 pages. Ever. Unless you seriously, seriously believe it merits it (and believe us – everyone does believe this). We’ve managed to help boil 15-page statements down to 2 without difficulty.
  2. Make sure the case number is on the top, as well as the names of the parties involved and which court your case is being heard at.
  3. Number your paragraphs.
  4. Do not use legalese. Using words like `pursuant’, `hereafter’ and `forthwith’ will at best confuse the issue and at worst leave everyone who reads it thinking you sound like Rumpole of the Bailey.
  5. Three sections. Background. Concerns. Order sought. The first section is a brief history. Dates. The second is why you are in court – what the problems are. The third and final section is what you would like the court to do about it – what order you would like it to make. On this last point it needs to be stuff that the court can actually order – things like making your ex behave like a `reasonable human being’ or forcing them to go to mediation can’t and won’t be ordered. If it’s contact be precise. `Some contact’ won’t cut it – `Contact on every other weekend, collection from school on Fridays and return there the following Monday’ will. Be unambiguous.
  6. Write everything with the best interests of the child and the Welfare Checklist in mind. Nothing more.
  7. Do not write anything but fact. Opinion doesn’t count. Write facts only and you give other parties less to dispute.

Litigant in Person 103 – What to do with the Position Statement

Make multiple copies. More than you think you’ll need is always helpful. You’ll need one. As will the other party. The CAFCASS officer or Social Worker would benefit from a copy too. The court will need to see it too – 1 for a judge, 3 for magistrates. For good measure take a couple of spares. That makes 8 at least.

As a litigant in person you will prepare your own documentsPhotocopying is often possible in court, but is also often expensive. £15 for the first sheet isn’t unheard of. Do not collect copies on the way to court either. We’ve lost count of the number of people who have turned up late because they have swung by the print shop on the way to the hearing.

You’ll be stressed enough on the day so get this out of the way the night before.

When you arrive at court (an hour before the hearing of course) find an usher. Ask them if they’ll pass it to the court. Find the other party’s solicitor and hand them a copy too. The same applies to the CAFCASS Officer or Social Worker if you can find them.

Litigant in Person 104 – What happens next?

In an ideal world the position statement will be seen by the court before you walk in. How you see things before you say a word should be clear to everyone involved.

You may be asked to clarify the things your statement says which is why it is important to be unambiguous as much as possible because doing so will only ensure your view is stronger than it would be otherwise.

Finally – anyone who assists you in putting together a position statement or other paperwork should be prepared to attend the hearing with you. Position statements can be very useful. But as we’ve said before, things can and do change dramatically at hearings; don’t get left high and dry by someone who puts it together with you but isn’t on hand when you are being asked all about it.

Don't ruin your own case1

4 more ways to ruin your own case.

You’ll ruin your own case in a way your ex could.

Don't ruin your own case1You’re going to ruin it. With friends like these, who needs enemies? Except this enemy is you. You’re going to shoot yourself in the foot, spike your own guns and hand your ex as much ammunition as he/she needs to be able to prove without a shadow of a doubt what a terrible person you are.

You can’t control what your ex is going to say and do but you sure as hell are going to take control of what you say to do.

And it’s going to be like watching a slow motion car crash.

You’re going to get aggressive with anyone who doesn’t agree with you. You’ll tell them they don’t understand. That they are weak for not being as angry as you. And that you’d do anything for your kids.

Apart from winding your neck in, presumably. That’s one thing you can’t do.

Here’s another 4 great ways you will end up as an object lesson to others

  1. Fight everyone involved in your case. The judge. The ex’s legal representative. The CAFCASS officers. The social worker. Your kid’s doctor and school. Make sure that everyone whose opinion may hold weight in a court case know exactly just how angry, aggressive you are and keen to make sure they all know about your rights. You get bonus points if you get yourself arrested by the police by getting stroppy in the wrong place and wrong time (a breach of the peaceis always a favourite). I mean…the ex says you are an angry and aggressive person so by doing this you’re definitely not proving them right are you? And he or she will have the police report to back it up.
  2. Fools ruin their own casesDon’t bother with stupid paperwork and evidence. Pfft! The court doesn’t need to see that killer piece of evidence to clearly back up your assertions does it? You don’t need to know where each document is that you may need during a hearing. A 10p Tesco carrier bag will be fine. Scribbling words like `Lies!’ or `****!’ on original documents are good too.
  3. Act now and don’t worry about the consequences. You may have to live with whatever happens for the next 15 years but if the ex has done or said something that really riles you make sure you file off an angry email or text message as quickly as you can furiously hammer it out. This’ll further help show what an angry person you are. The star prize will probably be a stint on the witness stand answering questions that make you look like a fool no matter what you say. Your McKenzie Friend will not have their head in their hands but they will be hoping the ground opens up swallowing them, the court but most of all…you.
  4. Go entirely alone. A litigant in person should go alone. Because you are able to listen, talk, think and take notes whilst in a sometimes highly stressful and fast moving area you have little experience of. You don’t need no stinkin‘ solicitor or McKenzie Friend. What are you…chicken?

You have more power than you realise. Don’t ruin it.

Even if you are a non resident parent who feels like they are marching to the ex’s tune. You ex has no power over you at all unless you let them. Consider your ex a liar? Prove them wrong by being reasonable in the face of provocation. Document where needed. Think ahead. Take advice.

It’s down to you.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Because it ain’t. Plenty of us have been there. We know exactly how it feels. But at the end of the day you have no control of anything other than yourself.

Your call, guys.

LiP Commandments (Part 2)

Welcome back to our new sermon, erm, blog post. To err is human, but to forgive is divine – and few people will blame you for making mistakes as you make your way through the vale of tears, the path of many faced with the family court. As promised we’d like to give you another 5 commandments – things to do and things not to do that’ll make a big difference to your case.

No one is perfect and chances are that we have all done a few things we wished we hadn’t or not done things we wish we had.

Here commenceth the lesson.

More LiP Commandments

6.) Thou Shall Care for Thine Documents

It always puzzles us why people how people treat the pieces of paper that can make a difference between an outcome in court they will live with and one they would positively hate. We’ve seen original documents written over (swear words and insults are always a `favourite’ of ours which means you are going to have to spend a lot of time with a copy and a bottle of Tippex removing comments that the court and the other side will find very interesting and useful.

Or else the documents are `filed’ in a bag that has the name of a supermarket in it and was formerly used to store a back of King Edward potatoes.

Don’t do it. Don’t write over documents. Put them in a ring binder in an orderly manner. It’ll mean they are nice and clean. You’ll also know where each one is when you need to refer to it.

7.) Thou Shalt Hope for the Best and Plan for the Worst

Be positive. You’ll do better in your case and feel better. It’s a tough and challenging situation you are in. It’s hard to stay positive true. But look after yourself and work on the principle that one day, none of this will matter.

Speak to many of the `old hands’ who have been through what you have several years (or decades) before and you’ll see that one day all this will be old new and you likely won’t care. Because life will be OK.

But don’t assume this means you should wait for things to get better on their own.

Work on the principle that documents will get lost. That no one else cares. That you are the only one who will meet that deadline.

In practical terms that means doing things like taking spare copies of statements to court if you have previously filed them as ordered. Or finding out the name, address, opening hours and requirements of that contact centre you may be stuck in for a while – so the court is in a better position to make an order there and then.

8.) Thou Shalt Not be Seen to Get Angry or Upset

You may well have good cause to be angry or upset. No one will actually blame you for this…but as sure as eggs is eggs it will be used against you if you put it on display. Doing so will mean contact is delayed. You’ll end up in a contact centre. You’ll end up on an anger management course. You’ll end up facing a Finding of Fact hearing or a Non Molestation Order.

If you need support, get it. Contact a support organisation of charity of your choice – where you can let off steam and learn to deal with the injustice you feel.

Don’t do it in court or anywhere else you will prejudice your case.

9.) Though Shalt Be Nice to Everyone Thy Meet

Everyone. The CAFCASS Officer. The court office staff. The security guards. The ushers (the ones in the black robes you’ll see in court). The judge, magistrates or legal advisors. Even the ex’s solicitor.

Monk - Ten CommandmentsYes. It may be hard. But you get more flies with honey than vinegar. And despite what you may think they are human beings – meaning they are more likely to be well disposed to you if you are pleasant. They are also less likely to believe you are the awful person your ex may be trying to paint you as if you are Mr or Ms Cool, Calm and Collected. As opposed to shouting swear words in the waiting room because you are angry the ex has said you shout swear words at people when you are angry.

In addition to all this, you are less likely to become unfocused.

10.) Thou Shalt Not Give Up; Thou Shalt Play the Long Game

There are very few situations where you have no legal options when it comes to your kids (yes…there are some – we know).

Don’t expect it to be plain sailing. You will come out of hearings wondering what the hell happened and that giving up may be the best thing for your sanity, your children and your finances. It is inevitable you will things are moving too slowly (or not at all). But you are there to secure an outcome in the long term – not within the next couple of weeks.

You may say you have no chance whatsoever. The best way to ensure you that happens is to walk away. No one can make you do that other than you however.

TL:DR – Commandments in Short

Expect it to be hard. Expect it to feel unfair. Be nice. Be prepared. Stay Calm. These commandments are really just common sense. It can be hard to follow them all when you feel attacked at every angle and it involves your kids. But it is possible to get an outcome you can live with.

That’s it.

Documents don’t belong in carrier bags

You’re representing yourself. You’re going to see more documents than you’ll ever want to see. By the end of it you’re going to say a few words of prayer for the many trees that have died to make all the paper you’ve used. For the more environmentally responsible amongst you out there you may want to plant a few trees to reduce your carbon footprint.

Burning documentsYou may want to celebrate the end of your case by having a large bonfire at the end of it all and dance around it with the beverage of your choice a la `The Wicker Man’.

But until that day comes you better make sure you have all your paperwork in a logical, easy-to-get-to format that will make your life as easy as possible. Because it’s going to be hard enough as it is.

Here at Family Law Towers we specialise in bringing order to chaos. Present us with a carrier bag of dog-eared, random pieces of paper you have shoved in the post or brought to us and we’ll give you an organised and logically-presented set of documents that you can refer to at any point in your case.

You’re not going to need it for every hearing (OK, OK…you are technically going to need it for every hearing seeing as Practice Direction 27A now says that a bundle is required for every hearing but it’s overkill in a lot of cases). Practice Direction 27A also says that as a litigant in person your ex’s solicitor is going to have to do it (or it’ll be you if you’re the applicant and he/she doesn’t have a solicitor). And to complicate matters it’s often worth you doing your own bundle in any event but we won’t go into that here.

Don't put your legal documents in carrier bagsWe’ve assisted at any number of hearings where we’ve seen litigants fishing through their `carrier bag of life’ looking for a document the judge would rather like to see but it can’t be found.

You know…the documents that swing the entire trajectory of your case. That sort of stuff.

Preparation, preparation, preparation.

Further to what I say above you will need a bundle for a substantive hearing (although it’s common for the court to request just a witness statement from LiPs). That’ll be the time to present the evidence we’ve advised you don’t throw at the court in a directions or review hearing (because no one will want to see them there).

Ring binders

Even if you aren’t going to have a substantive hearing (and if it happens if you agree an order with the ex) it’s well worth organising your files as such:

  1. Get a ring binder. A big one. Get file dividers too.
  2. Single-sides please. Copies, not original documents. Keep them elsewhere.
  3. Group your documents. Applications & Orders. Statements.  Reports. Correspondence.
  4. Put each group of documents in chronological order (oldest at the front, newest at the back).
  5. Put dividers in the folder, with the group of documents. Applications & Orders in B, Statements in C, Reports in D, Correspondence in E. Section A is for other docs you’ll need to produce yourself (we’ll discuss these at some point in the future).

That’s it for the moment. Congratulations! You have a half-prepared trial bundle and your documents to hand at all hearings.

Hearings are complicated and stressful enough as it is. Don’t make it harder for yourself.

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