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?

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

Represent yourself – the Family Law Assistance Advent Calender

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-parenting with a hostile ex-partner can require patience!

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.

Christmas contact - don't risk an empty house.

The Season of Goodwill – Christmas Contact

Christmas contact if you have a hostile ex partner is…special. OK, OK – Christmas is meant to be special. But not in that way, eh?

Christmas contact - don't leave it too late to sort it out.If you’re not seeing your kids over Christmas it can be just about the worst time of year. A time of year you quite frankly want to see the back of. You want everyone to put away the tinsel, stop banging on about it being `for the kids’ or anything else to remind you that you’ve been thrown out of `the parents club’.

You want it gone. The New Year to start. And to get on with life.

If the above sounds scarily familiar or likely to occur you have time to do something about it.

But not long.

Deal with Christmas contact issues now

Along with the summer holidays we always get a rush of calls in December from parents who realise they’re not going to see their kids on or around the 25th. By the time they do…it’s too late. We can’t help. Nor can anyone else.

Christmas contact - don't risk an empty house.It’s because the the court staff are taking time off for the holidays…and spending time with their kids. And because other people have anticipated the very problems that we’re discussing here and have beaten you to it.

They are going to avoid the situation of being told by the ex there is going to be no Christmas contact and if you don’t like it you can take him/her to court for it….which in reality will be when you’re throwing out the left over turkey at best and after ringing in the New Year at worst. You’ll get a court date at some point in January to discuss you wish for Christmas contact – we’ve seen it happen.

It’ll be too late.

How to make sure Christmas contact happens

So assuming Christmas contact isn’t specified in order, you need to work on things now. The same applies if the ex tells you you’re not seeing the kids over this period or refuses to discuss it at all.

You’ll need a plan. Here it is:

  1. Contact a mediation service such as National Family Mediation ASAP. Today is a good day to do it.
  2. Complete a C100 form for a Specific Issues Order. You’ll be applying for contact over Christmas this year as well as order that provides for Christmas Contact for every year going forward.
  3. Hand deliver the forms and submit your fee. You can always chance your arm at an emergency ex parte hearing for the same later down but this is risky and you may well find yourself turned away being told you shouldn’t have left it too late (and it’d be a fair point…).

If you do nothing, nothing happens. It’ll be you sitting alone. Make sure that doesn’t happen.

Don’t hesitate people!

Court - nothing like Game of Thrones

4 things that never happen in court

In some court some thing never happen…

…but you’re in your own little world. It’s 3am. You’re snuggled up in bed after a particularly hard day and along with the dreams about fabulous wealth, world domination and other things we’re much too polite to discuss here at Family Law Assistance Towers. Before long your subconsciousness gives you nudge in the direction of the legal process you find yourself in…

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

Your 30 minute 10am hearing finishes 10.30am

Court - nothing like Game of ThronesYou get to the court, having parked just outside in glorious sunshine just a few steps from the front door. Even better, it’s free! You don’t need to take a book, avail yourself of the wonderful coffee (it is a dream, remember!) and you have a lovely chat with the smiling and helpful court staff who welcome you like an old friend as you enter through the doors…

You get the ex’s solicitor to admit their client is a dick

A king (or queen) among men (or women), your ex’s legal representative greets you with a cheery smile and wave, telling you how nice it is to see you. How much weight you have lost. How much they love your outfit. They’re almost apologetic that you’ve taken time from your busy schedule to be in court instead of where ever you would rather be.

After this, they lean forward and tell you conspiratorially that while their client, your ex, has refused to agree to anything they can only express their sincere apologies because your ex is an unintelligent, selfish liar that they despise intensely.

During cross the examination the ex, the judge, CAFCASS or social worker admits it’s all their fault and/or a huge conspiracy against you.

Rumpole has nothing on you! It’s like knocking down skittles today isn’t it? Your questions are incisive, intelligent and utterly logical. The tissue of lies in front of you falls away like, erm, tissue. Stunned by your cross examination the poor sap on the stand is forced to admit their many character faults and incriminates themselves further whilst reeling from your verbal assault. Even the judge is open mouthed in shock and blurts out `You should be a barrister!’

You are going to remember this day for many, many years. And so will you. Chances are it’s going to bring down the whole rotten system. You’re going to end up on Love Island. Newsnight and before a House of Commons Select Committee to assist in reforming the whole Family Law system.

The court tells your ex it is entirely their fault and that you are as pure as the driven snow.

The Family Court isn't the criminal courtBut before that the court is going to rip your ex a new one. If the judge had a gavel he or she would most certainly be banging it to keep the assembled crowd that should be watching proceedings to keep quiet. When silence and decorum are restored he’d likely put on his/her black cap to pronounce his/her sentence of death read out the judgement.

Your ex stands in the dock, their head bowed in shame before they are put in stocks to have rotten tomatoes thrown at them. If you’re a Game of Thrones fan they’d be walking through Kings Landing with a nun walking behind them intoning `Shame!’ and ringing a bell from time to time.

Courts don’t work like this

See, we’re big on focus here. None of the above is realistic is it? If you’re out to crusade, punish or control a case you are a hiding to nothing. It doesn’t matter how strong, intelligent, tough or determined you are.

The courts are designed to work with awkward people. If that’s the box you get put in, you will lose.

Of course, you’ll meet the guy who never played the court’s game…and has no contact. Or the woman who was stitched up…but is almost certainly not telling you the whole story. Or the lucky beggar who was before a judge who woke up in a particularly good mood, liked the look of his/her face and decided to thrown caution to the wind.

But don’t rely on anything other than hard work. I’d say Hope for the best and plan for the worst’ but even that isn’t exactly decent advice. It’s less snappy to say `Plan for the worst and do everything you can to get the right result’ but it’s probably more accurate – because hoping implies you are powerless and as we’ve said before, that is far from the truth.

Good luck. Be strong, be determined, but be realistic.

Court - it is seldom over until you give up

How to defeat your worst enemy in court

It is easy to defeat your worst enemy in court.

They are the one person who can make you give up. They’ll make you look like an idiot. They’ll second guess you and make you look like a fool. Finally they will completely blow any chance of getting anything like the result you would like.

You already know who this person is. Because you see them every time you look in a mirror. Yes folks…it’s you.

You are your own worst enemy in court

Court - it is seldom over until you give upI don’t want to come over all…metaphysical here. You are responsible for your actions. No one else. Yes, yes, yes. I can hear the protests now. You’re discriminated against. Your ex has made allegations that make you look like Vlad the Impaler’s less pleasant brother or sister. The court is a huge money-making conspiracy out to grind you into the dirt. I’m blaming you for the situation you are in. You were left with no option.

Not true.

You decide what to say. You decide what to do. You decide to give up. Or not. No one else. This is stunningly good news. It means you are are in far more control than you ever, ever managed.

It means you are in control ultimately.

If you decide to walk away it’s because you have chosen to. The same goes if you have given your ex, the CAFCASS officer, the judge or the security guard who scans you for metal objects your considered opinion. A 91(14) doesn’t have to stop you. Neither does a final order. Or bad behaviour in the past – if you have addressed it.

If you ex has painted you as an aggressive nutter and you kick off in court you have proven their point. If you walk away and you think that is what the ex wants, they have `won’ (at this point the more high-minded among you will put your hands together in supplication, gaze heavenward and utter softly that it is not about winning or losing…it’s about the kids. You know what I mean).

The court won’t say `He/she walked away because he/she had no choice’. It won’t even give the matter any consideration. It will close the case, probably give your ex everything they want or decide you were happy with things as they are.

So if you aren’t happy with it why are you walking away?

Walk away from court and guarantee your failure.

Court - where there is life, there is hopeWe know how hard it is. Even if you take the attitude you have a 99% of chance of not getting the outcome you want you have a 100% chance of the same outcome by giving up.

But back to the positivity for a change.

There’s a wider point here isn’t there? You’re doing what you’re doing because you believe it is in the best interests of your children. And that being the case walking away most definitely isn’t.

Maybe when it is all over you won’t get the result you set out. Maybe you’ll get one you can live with, maybe you’ll get one you can’t, maybe you’ll get one that will keep you up for nights in years to come.

But if you don’t give up, you’ll be able to look yourself in the eye in that mirror and be able to say to yourself (and anyone else who will listen) `I did my best and I didn’t give up. I did what I did for the best reasons’.

No one can give that to you or take it from you can they?

Wise monkeys - abuse allegations are a serious business

What is abuse?

Abuse allegations are extremely common in the Family Court.

But what is `abuse’? It’s a good question but the answer isn’t a simple one. It depends on your viewpoint, context and the situation you’re facing. For some people the identity of who is doing what changes things too.

In many ways it is a deeply subjective matter. However:

Allegations of abuse are common in the Family Court

You’ll probably know this already if you have been a party in a case. In terms of Children Act proceedings courts are obliged to investigate allegations of abuse – the best interests of the child being paramount. And it’s a fair point: If you were a judge do you fear more being criticised for delaying things to investigate allegations…or being effectively responsible for effectively allowing severe abuse of a child (or even adult) to take place.

Allegations are also common when it comes to finance hearings (under the Matrimonial Causes Act) despite behaviour rarely being a factor that affects a court-determined outcome. Section 25 (which lists factors the court considers) states:

the conduct of each of the parties, if that conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it;

…in other words – only in extreme circumstances.

And finally when it comes to divorce itself if the grounds used are unreasonable behaviour (by the far most common one) abuse is covered by the words

that the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent;

Abuse allegations - legal finger pointing?The point here is that among the legitimate reasons to mention abuse (such as they actually happened) there are clear tactical advantages to make allegations.

I want to point out that for victims who have experienced domestic abuse this can be a very traumatic time. You probably have just found your voice for the first time and want to keep you and your children safe.

Whether they are true or not is an entirely different discussion (and what Finding of Facts are for) but they very often impact how a case plays out in the arenas mentioned above. Even in areas of law where they rarely count as a factor it is innate human nature to magnify and elaborate on any dissent because it is purely human nature to believe that inappropriate behaviour should be punished in some way.

Why are abuse allegations common?

If you asked the more cynical among us they’d likely say it to be a low risk, high potential gain strategy: There is almost never penalty if allegations are comprehensively proven to be false. It may sway a court. It may help obtain a Legal Aid-funded solicitor and/or barrister. It’ll delay proceedings in a child contact case. It’ll provide moral justification for preventing contact. It’ll help fire with fire. And so on…

From the opposite perspective? It’s because abuse is so common. Because abuse is much more common when relationships end. Because abusers allege abuser to attempt to control their victim. Because it muddies the waters when working out who is the victim and who is the perpetrator. Because it is revenge.

What does the court think of abuse allegations?

Once again, put yourself in the shoes of the judge. Almost every case you hear involves allegations of abuse. You understand the whole human nature thing. You’re dealing with people who are upset, angry and doing everything to make sure they get the majority of the money/kids/sympathy/whatever. In many situations you’ll think it has no bearing; but you have to investigate it if it comes to kids.

You may ignore the allegations entirely. You may ask the accused man/woman their side of things. You may, if you consider there is any mileage in the allegations to order a Finding of Fact (or consider it a relevant factor when it comes to finance or divorce).

How to react when you are accused of abuse?

In a word: Don’t.

Wise monkeys - abuse allegations are a serious business

Other than to say I refute the `allegations’ (we’ve been here before) if you believe them to be false there is nothing more to say on the factor. The court is there to decide if they are true or a factor in the matter before it – you’re not. And this follows the same broad `Innocent until proven guilty’ principle. Furiously denying everything at every point while understandable will make you lose your focus at the same time it makes you look…dodgy.

Being in the court process can be painful. Facing allegations of abuse are common and you should take some comfort that many others in a court case also face allegations they find hurtful and insulting. It needs to be understood that courts see them day in and day out too – and they seldom have any long term impact on the outcome of what is happening.

As always…stay focused.