McKenzie Friends

A non molestation order can land you in jail

Elvis and Non Molestation Orders

…it does something to you, working as a McKenzie Friend.

A non molestation order can land you in jailWhilst listening to music a few days back I was shocked to listen to the admission of poor behaviour by a certain gentleman from Mississippi in the form of song.

Consider this an academic exercise to help his ex partner who was faced with a situation she found unbearable!

You would have to have a wooden heart not to appreciate this…sorry.

Elvis gets a non molestation order

4 more myths about the Family Courts

Myths. In our experience people tend to believe a lot of things that aren’t true, don’t help them and costs them time and money. It’s all part of the warp and weft of being a litigant in person.

Myths may be great stories but they won't help you in courtOf course, if you have a solicitor you should avoid these problems. As they know the law (hopefully) they will tell you what is possible, what isn’t and how what you want fits in with how the law and the way the actual day to day stuff works.

As a litigant in person you don’t have this luxury however.

If you’re not using one of our stunningly talented, good looking and charismatic team members it’s down to you to read, learn and understand. The law isn’t written for you to understand. It’s written for our learn’d friends with legal qualifications, apprenticeships and time spent as a trainee.

There are many, many things to misunderstand in the legal system. Lots apparently small and insignificant stuff that can change the entire complexion and trajectory of what happens.

Another 4 myths  worth remembering…

No. 1 – Changing the names of children by deed poll doesn’t count for much.

Sorry. If you’ve spent a few hundred on one for your child in the hope you can change your mind…you’ve been done. At this point I’ll usually be told (by someone who has wasted their money on a deed poll that they aren’t a waste of paper, ink and gold lettering). It’s worth remembering surnames are considered by the court to be more important than the first name however.

Think about it for a moment. The Children Act says:

(1)Where a [child arrangements order to which subsection (4) applies] is in force with respect to a child, no person may—

(a)cause the child to be known by a new surname;

…because a piece of paper that hasn’t been issued by the court doesn’t count.

And neither does any number of schools, doctors, dentists or whoever that will happily accept it – they don’t know the law. Simple as that.

If you have a deed poll for your kid is it of any use at all?

Partially. So you already have a deedpoll with the name of your choice. When it comes to getting a passport with this name you’ll need to send the deedpoll and a letter from everyone else who has PR saying they agree with this to the Passport Agency and it’ll all be good.

If you want to a change a name otherwise you’ll need either the agreement of everyone else with PR or a court order (a C100 for a Specific Issues Order).

There’s no other way round it.

No. 2 – Money and contact are linked.

One of the myths is that money and contact are linkedOh no they’re not! Kids are not pay per view. We’ve heard people linking money and contact repeatedly but that’s a sure fire way of making yourself look…bad `You can see the kids when you pay me!’ isn’t exactly a child-focused thing to say.

Contact is either in the best interests of the child or it isn’t. Contributing towards the financial support of a child is (somewhat unsurprisingly) always seen as a good thing. Which is why a primary carer who refuses to accept money from the other parent, refuses to hand bank account details, etc. isn’t acting in the best interests.

It’s the whole reason there agencies to handle maintenance to replace the court hearings that used to deal with it.

Of course, it doesn’t stop people doing all of the above or shouting about it in court.

It’s a scenario many people are familiar with – blackening the character of the other party in court. It is argued that a parent who doesn’t contribute or refuses to accept cash from the other parent is just showing another way they’re not thinking of the children.

It’s not unheard of by a court to be interested in this and to sometimes draw inferences, but to be blunt…they shouldn’t.

No 3 – It can all be sorted out in the first hearing.

OK, you got me. It can be. It is entirely possible to get to a hearing and for an agreement to be made that resolves the entire issue, the court agreeing that this can happen.

But I am guessing it is unlikely to happen.

What is more typical is that a primary carer will stick to their guns and offer no contact at all or at most in a contact centre. If there is no agreement the court will most likely say it cannot make an order without this – it can…but it won’t and you aren’t going to convince them.

So manage your expectations, do your homework and work on everything you can to make sure you are fully prepared for things further down the line.

No.4 – It’s a good thing if your ex doesn’t have a solicitor.

…or if you can get his/her solicitor removed if they are funded by Legal Aid.

In most cases we’d say `No it isn’t’.

Because while it is undoubtedly true that your ex’s solicitor represents their position it is also a fact that he/she really, really doesn’t want to say to a judge something like `Yes – my client is denying contact, has no child-focused reason to do so and is doing it merely to punish their ex partner‘ – defending the indefensible is never much fun. A good solicitor will advise their client when they are doing something that isn’t going to help their case and often lean on them to be more reasonable (OK…appear to be more reasonable). Pay close attention while you are in court and you may sometimes hear a barrister or solicitor being very pointed with a client suggesting in the nicest possible way that they’re about to be torn off a strip in court. Sometimes there is…shouting. I’ve heard it.

Now imagine your ex, alone.

He/she will agree to nothing. Will make allegations at random intervals…which will hold up any progression while they are dealt with. Will slow things down by producing irrelevant and confusing information.

In short, stuff you’d never hear about if your ex had assistance. I’m not saying your ex’s solicitor is your best friend – it’s fairer to consider them a double edged sword where you are concerned. Your first question should be `Would my ex having a solicitor cause me more help than harm?’ Sometimes the question is harder to answer than you think.

Myths can damage your case

A final piece of advice is this: Don’t go alone.

Use a McKenzie Friend. Or a solicitor. Either way…learn. Because no one cares about your case as much as you do. You get to live with the consquences of your actions – no one else does.

4 myths about McKenzie Friends

McKenzie Friends. Lay Advisors. Court Assistants.

They’re all just titles. It doesn’t matter what they call themselves. Unless someone is a practicing solicitor or barrister – an officer of the court – and have completed all the qualifications, training and other requirements to receive that recognition they are a McKenzie Friend.

Simples.

What we can and can’t do is clear.

Michaela Wade, one of our McKenzie FriendsAside from the confusion about what a McKenzie Friend actually is there is also the fact that most people have just never heard of them.

If I had a pound every time said `I wish I had heard of you about 7 years ago’ I would probably have enough to pay for a few hours of my legally qualified counterpart’s time.

So us McKenzie Friends have just two problems – no one has heard of us and amongst those who do…no one knows what we can and can’t do.

Here are four of the top myths, responded to by one of our team, Michaela Wade

McKenzie Friends can’t come into court with me can they?

We absolutely can. We sit right next to you in court and quietly advise you what to say. I help all types of people from high profile people in the media to people whose first language is not English to people with learning difficulties. The one thing that they all have in common is the fact that they need assistance in understanding what the judge or magistrates are saying or asking of them. In addition most McKenzie Friends will also take notes at the hearing. No matter erudite, smart and organised you are you can’t do two things at the same time. Having someone take notes is valuable for many reasons. If the order is wrong you have a point of reference. If you need to remind yourself about what the judge said about a particular point you can remind yourself. If you need a transcript of the hearing you will have an idea about what time you will need the transcribers to refer to. 

In court it’s teamwork. I always say to clients that it does not matter who you have by your side you have to feel comfortable. I will talk to my clients as well as kick them under the table when they start to waffle or when they lose focus”.

It’s better to use a legally qualified solicitor than a McKenzie Friend surely?

It depends is the short answer.  We live in an age where information is on tap. We live in the age of the “app” . People share information and post blogs like this one. I think the reality is that we are moving to an age where people feel more empowered by being in the driving seat themselves. Being in court is no different. I recently went to a parenting charity’s AGM where I met the President of the Family division, Sir James Munby, where we acknowledged that the family justice system has to really start from scratch from a litigant in person’a point of view. He suggested that we could start with making applications online available. The point is if the big man at the top acknowledges it then there is a place for McKenzie Friends. 

Two thirds of my clients come to me because they don’t want a solicitor and not because they can’t afford one. My clients have been impressed that I don’t work traditional hours; that I deal with the more every scenarios that can be blown out of proportion at court; that I can get by butt from Wales to London at a couple of hours notice or be there for an emergency ex-parte application the next day.

A winning team is often a litigant in person and an experienced McKenzie Friend. The judge hears from you – as it is. You ARE the case. You know who, what, why, where and when on the tip of your tongue. You don’t have to rely on a third party to recall those details. Your experienced MK should be assisting you through the court procedure and how to best present your case in court”.

Why do you charge if you aren’t legally qualified?

McKenzie Friends don’t have to charge but the reality is this. If I didn’t charge then I wouldn’t be on hand to help out as much as I do and I help out  A LOT.  I travel the length and breadth of England and Wales assisting people. There is no legal requirement for McKenzie Friends to be legally qualified and there is nothing to say that we shouldn’t charge. I am a qualified paralegal (CILEX) and have spent most of my career in civil litigation. For me it was a natural progression. I also do much charity work and often signpost people to the charities that I am involved in for additional help and support“.

Do McKenzie Friends only assist with Family Law?

No. I do also assist with rent evictions, employment tribunals and contract law. My career began in finance and I was a debt collector, a benefits review officer as well as working for a centre with learning difficulties. I had to learn to communicate in a big way. Not only did I learn Maketon sign language but I learned to get blood out of stone. I would be repossessing people’s houses and cars. I would be working closely with the fraud department and liaising with debt collectors, court bailiffs, solicitors and people who were generally not nice to me. You’ve all seen “Can’t Pay, We’ll Take it Away” right? 

These skills made me perfect to dealing with all sorts of hostile and adversarial scenarios. That, combined with my legal training and knowledge made me perfect to deal with family law and other areas of law too. 

I started off just by doing family law but kept getting asked to other areas of law. I would have desperate people messaging me at all hours trying to get hold of me to assist with evictions and contract law etc. 

It is also true that I am a workaholic

 

Why CAFCASS make court orders

CAFCASS make the court orders. Or if you are involved in with Social Services, them. Even the ex’s solicitors can tell you what is going to happen in a court case. And you have no choice do you? They’ll do the reports, provide the recommendations or tell you that if you don’t do what they say you’ll find your child removed or your time with them restricted.

It’s a scary thought isn’t it? And you sure as hell better play ball. Right?

Let me let you into a little secret…

Only the court can make court orders

The clue is in the name.

No one other than the nice man or lady (or men and ladies) can tell you what to do. They’re the ones who have the power to make a court order you don’t want, don’t like and don’t agree with. If you don’t agree to something, say so. And make it clear.

Court orders - do as you are told?Should you agree to something – no matter how much you really don’t want to and no matter how much you feel you are being pressured into something…you have agreed to it. Agreement is agreement is agreement. It won’t wash that you were pushed into it.

Because the response you’ll likely get is `But you did agree to it didn’t you? And you would have sought legal advice on it before you did so surely?’

Now don’t get me wrong. I get it. You are faced with a social worker who tells you your kids will be taken away and you won’t be allowed to see them if you don’t agree to a Section 20. Or CAFCASS will tell you that their recommendations are effectively set in stone and there is nothing you can do about it. Or even the ex’s solicitor telling you that if you don’t agree to your application being dropped you will end up paying their costs and you’ll be seeing the kid’s in a contact centre until hell freezes over.

Not even your friendly neighbourhood McKenzie Friend

The court order is all that counts

Furthermore you don’t have to convince anyone else. No one at all. Just the court. Because they make the orders. Because if it ain’t on the court, it doesn’t count.

Ever heard `POIDH‘? `Picture or it didn’t happen’? Same thing.

But having read of this…am I telling you to ignore CAFCASS? Social Services? The ex’s solicitor.

No.

I know, I know. I am contradicting myself again. Here he goes…telling me to ignore the lot of them and no he’s saying the opposite. But in terms of making court orders – they don’t make them.

Listen to people. Consider what they’re saying. They may be right. They be wrong. They may even be trying to help you (it doesn’t happen you know…I’ve met people in all parts of the Family Law system who are genuinely nice people who don’t like some parts of their job). While you’re being nice to them (we covered that earlier didn’t we kids?) understand they have an opinion just like you…and it may not be right.

Your job is to convince the court

As it says above. Your job is to convince the court. But it’s also to listen and respond as needed to everyone else who is involved. And to weigh up all aspects of your case.

But don’t assume that because someone in an apparent position of authority tells you something will happen that it will happen.

It ain’t over until the court order is made.

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.

LiP Commandments (Part 1)

We are all but imperfect human beings. We all do things with the best of motives and upon searching our souls know the best and right thing to do even while we go off and do something entirely different, making achieving our goals and reaching the happiness we crave so much more difficult. Following a few simple commandments will make your life a lot easier.

Here at Family Law Assistance we’ve seen and heard a lot. We’ve seen a wide range of tactics used (and justified) – and we’ve seen the outcome for good and bad. We also see things more clearly very often, our clients paying us to provide a more clinical view of a case than they are able to. Because at the end of the day they’re your kids and not ours – it is hard to be impartial when it comes to your own children.

So it’s fair to say we have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

It’s common for people to say `I bet you’ve not anyone as bad as my ex’ or `I bet this is the worst case you have ever seen’. You’d be surprised – we won’t discuss details (a two year custodial sentence for contempt of court often offends) – but it is fair to say we’ve seen some challenging situations.

There is often a pattern however – certain immutable rules that are a sure fire way to help or hinder your case. If we were gamblers we’d have a fair guess when it comes to what will and won’t work in a court case.

So with no further ado…

LiP Commandments

1.) Thou Shalt Not Slag Thine Ex off on Social Media

Church - Ten Commandments?No excuses. Ever. Because there are none that will be accepted by a court in mitigation if you are asked to justify why you describe your ex as a ****', a `****’ or even a `****’. You won’t be thanked your honest or your insight even if you are demonstrably correct. Instead you are likely to be painted as someone who is more interested in sticking it to your ex than you are producing a child-focused solution.

Better still? Don’t mention the ex at all. Or your case. You don’t have to convince us, remember. Just the court…

Pro-tip: Slagging the ex off or what he/she is doing whilst not naming them won’t cut it.

2.) Though Shalt Remain Whiter than White at All times

Many people feel they are lied about during court hearings. Why give the other party the opportunity to say unpleasant and true things about you – even better for them if they can prove it?

Again…the court won’t be persuaded by the argument `Yes – I know I did that but he/she is just as bad or worse!’ Or anything else for that matter.

No matter unfair it may seem or indeed be.

3.) Thou Shalt Keep Thine Eye Upon The Ball

What are you going to court for? Proving the ex wrong? Having your say? Getting things on record? Or for ensuring your kids have a relationship with you?

The court will only take any notice of the last one of these. If your motivation for making an application is anything else…save yourself the cost, time, effort and heartache and don’t bother. Seriously. Go on a nice holiday or something instead.

And don’t waste your time trying to get the court to do stuff it doesn’t have the power to order – like communicating with you.

If you do go to court make sure your original motivation for going there stays the same throughout. Don’t get distracted by false allegations – refute them. Don’t get into arguments over anything other than your kids’ best interests. If the other side can change the subject and get you riled…they will. Be wise to it.

4.) Thou Shalt Not Take the whole Family Law System Head on

Maybe you’re a tough guy who never gives up. Show me the man/woman who will tell you `At least I had the guts to tell that judge and everyone else like it is’ and I will show you someone with no contact and non molestation and barring orders against him/her.

That’s because the court is geared to dealing with angry, aggressive and unreasonable people who will shout the odds and get aggressive when they don’t get their way. Do that and you’ll be chewed up, spat out and forgotten by the time you’re out of the court room door.

5.) Thou Shalt Listen to Those with Some Knowledge

So you’re in a difficult situation. It probably feels quite unique. It ain’t. No matter how hard it is I can guarantee you someone has gone through it years before you…and there will be others who will do some in the future too. Amongst them will be the ones who have done well and others who haven’t. Learn from the mistakes of those who have come before and listen to those who have hung around to help others. If you use a solicitor, the same applies – after all, at £260 an hour it’s quite reasonable to assume they will help in some capacity.

The same goes if you use your friendly local McKenzie Friend – namely, us. We’re pretty good at advising you if your chosen course of action is good or bad. We won’t hesitate to tell you if you’re shooting yourself in the foot. After all a good friend tells you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear.

So that’s it. There will be another 5 of these handy commandments coming up as time progresses. But it ain’t rocket science guys. We’re on your side and if you choose to let us help you we’ve got your back. And like the original commandments it’s fair to say these are set in stone.

You’re not alone. Contact us to find out how we can help.

Here endeth the lesson.

What can a McKenzie Friend do to help me?

McKenzie Friend? What’s one of those?

It’s easy for us here at Family Law Assistance Towers to assume that everyone else is completely au fait with the Practice Guidance on what a McKenzie Friend (that’s the rules on what we can and can’t do to you and me). After all…if we don’t follow these rules we’ll get thrown out and that tends limit the help we can give to help our cash-paying clients…so choose wisely.

In our experience the following people have acted as MFs. They include:

  1. Friends.
  2. Parents and step parents.
  3. Brothers and sisters.
  4. Other family members.
  5. Support workers from abuse and other charities.
  6. Someone with an axe to grind with the system.
  7. Someone with an axe to grind with their ex.
  8. Just about anyone else.
  9. People who genuinely want to help others.
  10. Us

(As you’ve all read Practice Guidance while you’ll know some of the above aren’t allowed the court will often take a pragmatic view preferring to ask the question `Are they more of a help or hindrance in proceedings?’)

What can a McKenzie Friend do?

A MF can sit with you in the court building before and during the hearing, looking decorative (as Michaela Wade frequently says) or they can help you with just about every aspect of your case.

Some of the things a MF can do include assisting you with:

  • Form filling.
  • Preparing paperwork.
  • Pre court negotiation.
  • Explaining to you what is going on.
  • Advice concerning you how to run your case.

Contrasting are things a MF cannot do includes:

  • Speaking on behalf of you in court.
  • Acting as your agent (i.e. receiving and sending letters to the ex and/or their legal representative.
  • Conducting litigation on your behalf.

Paperwork - a good McKenzie Friend should be able to help you with itSo you’ll very probably have to speak for yourself in court and you’ll be the one receiving and sending documents to the other party – but good MFs (like us, naturally) will be able to prepare you and advise you on this. A MF does not have `automatic rights of audience’ in court and and you need to run a mile from anyone who suggests otherwise.

So in short a good MF can help you with just about every task you’ll encounter while you’ll run your own case.

They’ll be in touch with you in the weeks or months before any court case even starts. The good ones will do their best to help you side step any legal action (suggesting mediation, or negotiation with the other party – because the best outcome all round is not going to court.

They’ll be on hand to provide perspective on situations you’ll find yourself in (such as the ex putting you in an apparently `no win’ situation at a handover. They can advise you what to do), help you understand and respond to correspondence, tell you when you need to do nothing or hot foot it to your local court. They’ll be with you there on the day before and during your hearing. In the hearing they’ll take notes, explain to you what is going on, kick you under the table if needed (seriously). They’ll be next to you to answer any questions you have or advise you what your options are.

Just about everything. Other McKenzie Friends may just meet you on the day and sit with you to make sure you don’t freak out too much.

Every McKenzie Friend is different

Use us and you’ll find we’re at the `We’ll help you with just about everything’ end of the scale – the benefit of being full time and (mostly) legally qualified McKenzie Friends. In addition to this it is worth pointing out that a McKenzie Friend does not have to be legally qualified (ours are – they are ILEX-qualified paralegals with professional legal training). Our team members have worked in legal departments, acted as experts in cases and have been involved in cases ranging from the simple to the massively complicated.

To conclude – know what you’re getting. If you decide you want a MF, shop around and get recommendations from people you know. There is a great deal of variability out there – in terms of price, experience, role and qualifications. Make sure you are happy with whoever is assisting you long before you even get near a court room because this is something you don’t want to be worrying about on the day.

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