Tag Archives: Litigants in Person

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.

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.

LTR - the nuclear option

Stopping the ex moving abroad with the kids (LTR)

It’s just about every parent’s nightmare. Leave to Remove (LTR). You’ve split with your children’s other parent. You’ve done your best to stay in their lives. You’ve jumped hurdle after hurdle put in your way. You’ve probably gone to court to get a court order. It’s cost you time, money and heartache already. You are hoping to rebuild your life, to spend time with the kids and look forward to happier time.

And the ex then announces they are moving abroad. Possibly France, possibly another continent. Possibly the other side of the planet. Or maybe you hear it from someone else.

Face this it’s reasonable to feel like the bottom has dropped out of your world.

Because it’s a game changer isn’t it? It’s one thing to be restricted in when the kids see you…but if you need a plane flight and a passport to see them that’s an entirely different ball game.

Of all the times that you need your game head, this is it.

Now of course it is possible to get kids back from a foreign country – especially if they are Hague Convention ones. Right? Well…look at it like this. You know how difficult it is as a litigant in person in the Family Court in this country?

Imagine doing it again in a different language, using laws you are unaware of, that may give ex priority (for example…if they are a national of the country they are now in). and you paying the equivalent for the cost of a holiday for each hearing until the case is over and your lawyer if you have one.

Leave to Remove (LTR) – the nuclear option

Leave to Remove - the nuclear optionAs a non resident parent you are on the back foot already even at the best of times. Once your ex has gone…well…a contact dispute in this country will look like a walk in the park and you’ll soon end up with fond memories of the `good old days’ when you weren’t flying to hearings.

For this reason it’s a different proposition. If you seriously think your ex is going to remove your children from England & Wales you need to consider carefully on balance whether you would rather fight a court fight here…or elsewhere. In an age where you have around a 50% chance of stopping a removal it is quite possible you have little to lose.

There are various outcomes in this scenario:

  1. Your ex is planning to remove your children and you do nothing – your children go.
  2. Your ex is planning to remove your children and you make an application – you have a 50% chance of stopping it.
  3. Your ex isn’t going to remove the children and you do nothing – good result.
  4. Your ex isn’t going to remove the children and you make an application – you damage the relationship with your ex.

Moral of this story? If you have serious concerns you absolutely should make that application. If not, step away from the big red button.

How to deal with a Leave to Remove Case (LTR)

The correct answers are `quickly’ and`decisively’. Don’t push this metaphorical big red button unless you are fairly sure your children will be removed if you do nothing.  If you are…push it without a moment’s hesitation.

The practical stuff?

Leave to Remove  - handle with careYou’ll need a C67. Or a C100. Depending on the circumstances and what you wish to achieve exactly and your particular circumstances – because there is more than one way to skin a cat. You’ll need to submit a position statement too in all likelihood (almost certainly if we’re by your side).

It’ll be an emergency ex parte hearing and should the court see things your way you’ll likely be back very, very soon (we’ve know it to be the next day in the cases we have assisted in).

You won’t be visiting you friendly local court either…it’ll be a day trip to London unfortunately to the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand.

and where you’ll quite possibly end up before a High Court Judge. Which should kind of give you an inkling of how serious this sort of thing is treated.

This whole post can be boiled down very succinctly. Don’t make this sort of application unless you are fairly certain there is a definite risk your children will be removed; if there is…get on with it. Don’t hesitate.

And the moral of this story is simple. Do your research. Communicate with your ex as much as possible. Simple misunderstandings can be blown out of all proportion. For the want of transparency you can be mired in a court case that only causes trouble.

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.

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.

Help! What happens at the first hearing?

So the mediation didn’t work if you even got there. Your ex has refused to discuss things with you, has delayed and or refused mediation and you’ve had no option but to submit at an application to the court.

It’s something you’ve tried to avoid but you had no other option and you’re dreading it. The first hearing is looming. What the hell do you do???

OK. It’s easy for me to say this because it’s a) not my children and b) I’ve assisted in more cases than you’ve probably had hot dinners but…don’t panic. Scratch that…try not to panic. Like I say, it’s easy for me to say that. It’s not a comfortable place and if there is a coffee machine let’s just say it isn’t likely to impress any experts.

If you’ve got a solicitor (a barrister would be overkill for a first hearing and the only thing more extreme is to take both a barrister and a solicitor but it does happen from time to time) things can be easier in some ways. They’ll sort out everything on the day or at least they should. After all – that’s what you are paying them in excess of £260 an hour, right?

If you haven’t, you’re either on your lonesome or you have one of our talented, charismatic and good-looking team members by your side who’ll make sure that any surprises you’ll face are kept to bear minimum.

You’re first hearing will be a FHDRA (fer-hydra as they pronounce it – a First Heading Dispute Resolution Appointment).

Here are some basics to remember:

  1. Write a position statement beforehand (we can help). 2 pages maximum. No, really. Two. Pages. I don’t care how complicated your case is. No one will read your own take on `War and Peace’ in the ten minutes before the hearing. Your position statement will have a brief history of the situation. It’ll have the issues you are facing. Finally it’ll say what you want ordered. This last bit…if you are asking the court to order stuff it can’t you are wasting your time, printer ink and a good opportunity to make a good case. I don’t want to see stuff like `I want my ex to acknowledge what he/she has done‘ or `I want what he/she has done on public record‘. It dilutes you’re case while making you look petty. Take at least 4 copies on the day, handing one to the usher (the ones in black robes…if you can find one) before you go in.
  2. Get there an hour early. And take a book and/or music. There is usually a lot of sitting around.
  3. Find out what court room you’re in. They’re usually on the wall with your case number (make sure you have it before you go to court). Check in with an usher so they know you are there and where you are.
  4. Very often a CAFCASS officer will be there to see if any agreement can be made. Be child-focused at all times but clear about what it is you are seeking. Don’t agree to something unless you are really sure you do agree. This is important (and make sure the court is clear on this when you go into the courtroom too).
  5. If your ex has a solicitor be nice. Whether you feel they are being helpful or not behaving badly will likely come back to bite you one way or another. They’re doing a job and don’t have a personal dislike of you – they kind of have to believe what their client (who as I say is paying them £260 an hour) is telling them. If there are things you can agree…great (you don’t have to agree on everything but it’s all to the good if you can reduce the number of things you’re arguing about). If your ex doesn’t have a solicitor it’s often worth waiting until you get into court to avoid risking inflaming an already tense situation.
  6. You’ll either see one judge or (usually three) magistrates. Call them sir’ or `madam’ as appropriate. You won’t be criticised for using the wrong words if you are using common courtesy.
  7. Use your position statement as your basis for why you are there.
  8. Don’t get sidetracked.
  9. Make sure you take notes (although I’d say you should never go into court alone unless you can speak, listen and take notes at the same time). Note what is said, who said it, times and what is agreed.
  10. Make sure you get an electronic/paper copy of the order before you leave. The order will list what contact, etc. is ordered, when the next hearing is and anything else the court has decided to happen.

That’s it. Don’t be surprised if any of the above doesn’t happen, is done differently, etc. Different courts have different ways of doing things and the real secret is to be able to keep abreast of what is going on as it happens. Most of the action takes place outside the courtroom – with our assistance many of our clients have been able to negotiate an order by `consent’ (agreement) which is the best outcome by the time you are actually in the court system. A consent order is also often seen as stronger because the parties have agreed on it.

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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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