Contact and Coronavirus

What do you do about contact and Coronavirus?

The outbreak of Coronavirus across the UK is going to cause problems for contact. I’ve got no doubt about it. All the signs are there. People are changing their plans, panic buying and feeling they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision about day to day stuff.

If you’re a separated parent – and chances are you are if you’re reading this – you’ve got stuff like court orders for your children to deal with, limited communication with your ex partner and a potentially volatile situation that could get worse.

Contact and Coronavirus – how do you balance these?

This is the wrong question. The correct one is `What is in the best interests of the children’. And understanding that this in the eye of the beholder – or in the eye of the court if you’re involved in family law proceedings – means that a disagreement with your ex about how you and your children coming down with can lead to….trouble.

But back to the best interests of the child. At the moment current government advice is basically to wash your hands and do what you can to avoid getting infected. Your child travelling back and forth between you and your ex partner means that if the infection continues to spread you’ll pass it to each other. This in itself should be a good reason to ensure communication between your ex partner is clear, open and honest.

Working together in the best interests of your child and stopping the epidemic is a good thing, right kids?

If you or our child becomes infected

The moment you or your child becomes infected your child should stay where they are – regardless of the contact pattern, the order or anything else. Self-isolation is a thing – and if one person in your household has it, there is an increased risk that others in your home will do too. Follow government advice and call 111 or speak to your doctor (phone…don’t visit).

And let your ex partner know.

Court orders are to be followed. But the court is clear – sometime things…happen. This is one of them. Contact your ex. Explain the situation. Suggest that your child stay where they are until it is clear whether Coronvirus infection has been confirmed or not.

Suggest your child stay where they are regardless of the court order. Regardless of who is the primary carer. Regardless of plans. Regardless of anything else.

Contact and CoronavirusA difficult ex – how do you deal with contact and Coronvirus?

But what to do if the ex insists the order is followed? That’s the tricky one. From a medical, ethical and legal perspective? With my legal head on? Document what is happening – when people have got sick, etc. What advice you’re given. And worry about the consequences afterwards.

If I seem vague, or if the advice seems a bit `how long is a piece of string’ that’s because this is often the nature of the court…and the fact we’re in an unprecedented situation means things are up for debate (which hopefully won’t be in court).

tl:DR

Follow government advice. Act in the best interests of the child. Don’t use this as an excuse to extend or prevent contact. Communicate with your ex.

It’s as simple as this. And no…there are no guarantees here.

How does the family court know its making the right decisions?

Data in the family court - unmined gold?Decisions in the family court?

The CAFCASS officer looked at me and  said `If I don’t see someone again I assume everything is fine’.

I’d just asked her how she knew her recommendations were in the best interests of the child.

When I responded `People give up too don’t they? How can you tell the difference?’ she didn’t answer.

Best interests of the child

What’s the definition of the above?

It’s a good and fair question to ask if you’re in the family court. What’s in the best interests of the child?

Uh uh uh….no clues.

My cynical and jaded definition of this is `Whatever you can convince the court that is’. Which means that if you ask that judge he or she may differ from the next one. It’s why you can be left feeling you’ve got a strong case one hearing and an awful one the next. It’s why you can go to one hearing and get a legal drubbing when you’ve got a strong case or feel it’s going your way when it’s perhaps more touch and go.

Despite the many jokes about legal professionals (`How can you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving’) they are only human. They have their own personal beliefs, biases, stories and their mood will be coloured by the car that cut them up on the way to work, the cat crapping on the carpet again and that nasty cold they’ve got. Despite the systems in place…they’re as fallible as you or me.

Gold - the data the family court could use would be invaluableBig decisions, little analysis

So how do legal professionals know they’re making a decision that is for the best?

In another life I worked as a performance analyst, business analyst and requirements engineer for big corporations that wanted to guarantee – as much as possible they’d make money, save money, not get sued, etc.

 

When I moved into family law I took a keen interest in stuff like the forms the courts used (badly designed, redundant questions), processes (antiquated – lots of time lost and work wasted because of poor design) and this – a  lack of analysis of results.

How can the court work out if they’re doing any good if they don’t collect the data much less analyse what happens as a result of their decisions?

How does it know if the order it makes works a year, 5 years, 10 years down the line? Are they safe? Aren’t dragged in front of CAFCASS officers, social workers, psychologists or anyone else repeatedly? If your order keeps getting broken? In short – they don’t.

Much.

I’ve a feeling the Ministry of Justice keep any of this sort of thing to themselves and if personal experience is anything to go by…I don’t blame them. I know they do some…but I’ve a feeling it isn’t enough.

But just imagine. The court knowing that if it orders X’ there is a 59% change of success, if it doesn’t order `Y’ 74% of kid will do `Z’. Now I get it…there are a lot of factors. And every course is different. But believe me…there are ways – if enough data is collected that patterns can be pieced together.

Imagine…an evidence based process to improve things.

How does this help you?

Well…it doesn’t. Much. But it teaches you a big fact here. If you go away, the court marks it as a success. Because if you weren’t happy with the outcome you’d be back in court wouldn’t you?

So if you’re tempted to walk away for any reason other than the best interests of your children…no one will notice, care and you may well be added to the `proof’ that the system works fine.

How to run a case on a tight budget

A family law case can be expensive

Even if you have a tight budget there are things you can doThere’s no denying it. With solicitors costing around £250 an hour, legal aid being hard to get hold of and the sheer disruption of your life of hearings, assessments, stress, unpredictability and much more a court case can hit your finances at  time they’re likely at a low ebb. Your budget is a factor here.

It’s one of the reason why people often choose to represent themselves (but not the only one despite what many of learn’d friends in the legal professional would have us believe).

It’s where we come in – we’re a fraction of the cost of a solicitor, don’t do exactly the same job and can dip in and out depending on what suits you, where it suits you.

But some people choose to go entirely alone.

Doing it on your own – what’s your budget?

Firstly…we advise you don’t do this – especially at hearings. Quiet at the back! Yes, yes, yes. Of course we’d say this…but even though we would there are a few things to consider:

  • You’re unlikely to be able to listen, think, take notes and formulate a response in a hearing.
  • It has been known for people to feel taken advantage of by legal professionals – although they do have a duty of care to assist you.
  • You’re not going to be neutral in all this – chances are you’re going to be a liiiitle bit biased when it comes to your kids, your money, your house, your ex.
  • It’s stressful at the best of times.
  • You’ve got no one to kick you under the table to make you shut up during a hearing when you’re about to damage your own case (yes…seriously).

Even with a tight budget you have options

Your options

  1. Go to mediation if possible. It’s cheaper than a hearing.
  2. Decide if it’s worth going to court in the first place.
  3. Check to see if you’re eligible for for fee remissions for court fees (you need form EX160).
  4. Take a McKenzie Friend, solicitor or barrister to court purely for key hearings.
  5. Get some decent advice online (avoid bad…particularly Facebook groups and organisations full of people who will make you want to give up…)
  6. Get someone (as neutral as possible) as  `sanity check’ to see if you’re being unreasonable.
  7. Dial hostility down – by responding only to child-focused matters, not responding to angry emails, not posting about it all on social media, etc.

Your call

These options can help. But they’re not a solution. There isn’t as much help there as you’d like probably. But on the up side there is a lot you can do to help yourself. There’s no cavalry, no silver bullet, no magic wand. And any solution is likely to be slow and gradual – but you can do it if you are minded to.

Co parentingwithahostileexcanseemimpossible.

Can I have a quick chat?

Your call!

Your call!

If you’re reading this page it’s probably because you’ve got in touch with us. Please read this article before responding.

You’ve probably got in touch with us and said one of the below or something similar…:

  • Can I have a quick chat?
  • Can I get some advice?
  • What are my chances of…
  • What does <Something> mean?
  • Is someone available for a chat?
  • Can you give me advice on my case?
  • Would you take a look at my paperwork and let me know…
  • Can you assist me in my court case?
  • I don’t want a meeting – just a 5 minute chat.
  • Can I pick your brains?
Michaela's testimonial

Michaela’s testimonial

Definitely – we can help! Quite possibly even today. It’s totally doable.

But we’re pretty busy. To the extent we have a system and people who work with us to let us focus on making sure our clients get the help they need. Without the people who do some of daily tasks for us we’d be sunk.

We average about 10 messages a day from people who `want a 5 minute chat’. Do the sums and it works out like this.

  • Ten 5 minute chats a day – that’s 50 minutes per day.
  • Or 250 minutes per week.
  • Or about 1000 minutes a month – 17 hours (around 2 1/2 working days).

Mounts up doesn’t it? Would you be happy to work 2 1/2 days a month for free? Or give up a weekend a month to work for someone you’ve never met and don’t know?

As I said above…we’re pretty busy – we don’t have the time to get a lot of stuff we want to do. As well as our daily work we’re working on stuff in the background – improving what we do, generating free content – blogs, Facebook posts, videos, guides as well as committing to a worklife balance that doesn’t include answering the phone on Christmas Day, whilst on holiday or straight after surgery (we’ve done all three in the past…)

Where do we draw the line?

We could easily fill the day giving advice over the phone, reading large trial bundles or helping people with the personal stuff that they’re facing. But sadly we have rent, utility bills and other costs that need paying if we’re going to keep a roof over our heads.

And the reason people want our assistance isn’t because of sparkling personalities, witty repartee and amazing personal charisma but because we’ve got decades of experience working in the family law system. Decades of study, driving around the country to just about every family court in England and Wales, research and reading trial bundles big enough to beat someone to death with.

So…if you’re serious about having a chat about your situation – give us a call on 0117 290 0274. Speak to our PA and book an initial consultation.

Do this and the following happens you’ll:

  • Be guaranteed a quick response from us.
  • Have our undivided attention (and not people who want a `quick five minute chat…’
  • Find us working around your schedule.
  • Benefit from the systems we have in place to track your progress and situation.

If you don’t want to invest in your situation so you can benefit from the above – no problem!

We won’t be offended. Our time is valuable however – as we’re sure yours is too.

Over the last decade we’ve built up a reputation of getting to the heart of a problem fast by focusing on what needs doing and what works – rather than lamenting the situation in or how you see the legal system in England and Wales. People are keen to speak to us and we’re massively flattered.

Steven and Michaela's testimonial

Steven and Michaela’s testimonial

What next?

So with all of the above in mind you have the following options:

  1. Phone us on 0117 290 0274 and book in for a meeting.
  2. Use the free resources we generate on various social media platforms.
  3. Speak to a McKenzie Friend who works for free.
  4. Do nothing.

What we do

If you do decide to invest in your situation however we’ll help you with the following:

  1. Complete any kind of paperwork you need help with.
  2. Go through any documents/bundles that need reading and understanding.
  3. Help you deal with any correspondence you have – both what it means and how to respond.
  4. Discuss what your options are throughout your case and tell you what is liable to work and what isn’t.
  5. Come to court with you.
    1. Make sure you know what is going on.
    2. Be with you to assist you during negotiations.
    3. Sit beside you in the hearing itself – to take notes, explain what is going on and tell you your options.
    4. Keep you focused.
    5. Make sure the order made matches what is said in court.

Imagine the above – along with us on hand to help you as little or as much as you need. Available during emergencies (as in `stuff that is happening right now) .

Maybe you need us every step of the way. Maybe you just need the odd meeting to see if what is happening in your situation is ok or not. It’s all good.

So that’s it. Maybe you need our help…maybe you don’t. If you do, our number is 0117 290 0274.

When you need a `bulldog’ by your side

Bulldog of a lawyer?Fight fight fight!

`My solicitor is really scary! He’s nice to me but he scares the hell out of the other side in court! He costs me £275 hour but he’s worth it!’

That’s what he said to me. He loved his solicitor, the man I was speaking to. His solicitor was sharp, aggressive and terrified his ex. And her solicitor too. Pretty impressive stuff. Barely concealed legal threats about no contact, hostile cross examination by a barrister, crippling legal costs and much, much more.

Barks and bites 1

I wasn’t surprised. I’ve met solicitors and barristers like that. They’re actually quite rare though. Most of them are nice enough people (seriously – I’m not `going native’ here) – although I get it can be hard to see it that way when they’re relaying your ex’s words and you seriously don’t like what they’re saying. Most of the best legal professionals are the people you’ll have a chat with and try to make the best of the situation in front of them (you wouldn’t be in court in the first place if it were all sunshine and roses in any case would you?)

But yeah…I’ve met the other sort too. The fixed scowl, the use of language that can seem intimidating and misleading, etc.

You get more flies with honey than vinegarHoney and vinegar

I always joke that the really dangerous’ legal professionals are the ones who charm and leave people walking away thinking `Did I really just agree to that?’ and the inkling that maybe they shouldn’t have done. The old saying `You catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ comes to mind: You’re more likely to achieve your goals with soft words and niceness than kicking in the door of the consultation room and telling the opposite party they’re legally doomed.

`What did the court order in your hearing?’

I asked the father whose solicitor sounded like Conan the Barbarian’s more aggressive big brother. I was picturing him a furry hat, loincloth and carrying a large unwieldy sword. Not a particularly pleasant image from my perspective. Not so soon after breakfast.

The dad in question looked at me like I was an idiot. It was clearly a silly question. His solicitor’s aggression was clearly a good thing. And then he answered.

`Oh. The court wouldn’t allow contact. It’s been 6 months now but my solicitor says it will definitely happen at some point!

Help! They’re ignoring my children’s wishes!

`I will support contact if my children want it’

We hear this a lot. After all parents need to listen to their children – because they’re people and have wishes and feelings like all of us don’t they?

But…

  • `I will support my children only eating chocolate if they want to do that’.
  • `I will support my children not going to school if they choose that’.
  • `I will support my children not going to bed if they choose to stay up all night’.

And when this is said the usual response is That is totally different and a ridiculous comparison’ or `If my children didn’t want to go to school I would find out why rather than just send them’.

Yet not many people would defend their children living off sugar, not getting an education or playing at 3am on a school night…but they would when it comes to not spending time with the closest relative they have.

Wishes and feelings

Children are subject to the Children Act. Which means the law applies to them. And of course…it applies to their parents too. It’s worth pointing out that it’s been acknowledged in court this means both parents and children sometimes have to do stuff they don’t want to do. Contact with a separated parent for example.

The main concern of the court is The best interests of the child’ and not `What the child wants’.

The Children Act applies to anyone under the age of 16 (in most cases – sometimes it’s 18). So strictly speaking if you want to know at what age a child can make their mind up about contact or anything else…that’s the answer.

Complications, complications

As a child gets older and their ascertainable wishes and feelings get clearer/stronger what they want also gets more significant. But until they’re 16 what they want remains just one of the 7 factors taken into consideration by the court when it makes an order – aka `The Welfare Checklist’. A progressively more important one…but still one of 7.

Or another way of looking at it…the older they get, the more likely what they want is liable to be able to `tip the balance’ when it comes to a court making a decision.

Magic number

But there is no magic age when you can say that what a child wants will make or break any decision. It’s theoretically possible that 15 1/2 year old will be subject to an order they’ve said they don’t want. Or for the 6 year old’s wishes to swing it.

Of course – the court has a wide ambit of discretion. You may well not agree with the court about how much weight your child’s wishes and feelings should carry when it comes to sorting things out.

So if you’re going into court and you’re relying purely on what your child is saying…or you think your child is saying you’re ignoring 6 other factors that the court will look at when it comes to making a decision. It doesn’t matter if a school or other agency plucks an age out of the air says it will listen at a certain age – it doesn’t trump the Children Act. This includes Gillick Competency by the way – it’s not relevant here.

Checking Facebook and other things more important than your child contact case

Child contact or Facebook?Finding that lost dog in Arizona or contact with your children?

Contact with your children is the most important thing in the world to you. Not seeing them has caused you to fall into depression. Put you into debt. Ruined friends and relationships. Generally turned your world upside down.

And yet when it comes to doing something about it you do stuff that isn’t going to help. This includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Going on holiday during a crucial part of your case.
  • Deciding to print your documents the morning of the hearing.
  • Not asking the boss for some time off to do stuff that needs doing because he may say no.
  • Turning up late.
  • Not looking after crucial documents .

Rabbit in the headlights?

Every action has a reason behind it. When people do this sort of thing it’s usually because they don’t want to go to the damn hearing or deal with the horrible paperwork. We don’t blame them for that. It’s a normal (and sane!) reaction when faced with something unpleasant. (It’s different for us. It’s our job and we stay neutral when you’re feeling under pressure).

But how would it be if dealing with these horrible jobs made you gain the feeling that you’ve seized control of the situation? That you’ve ticked something else off the list of things that need to happen to achieve your goals.

And this is something you can do that will help your situation with zero legal knowledge, help from people like us or anything like that. It’s free.

Things to do instead of working on your case?Catch-22

The above is easy to say but can be more challenging to do. But it is possible. Because it’s a mindset thing. And you’re in charge of your mind. Whether it is deciding to give the ex’s solicitor both barrels, telling the judge like it is or choosing to be happy when others wouldn’t be – it’s down to you.

The longer we’ve assisted people the more we’ve realised the more responsibility you take for yourself, the more power you have.

This post comes off the back of a conversation with a colleague who said how frustrated when people seemingly do things to damage their own situations. If the above applies to you…what can you do to make sure you’re making it that little bit easier?

Giving up is easy to do

Giving up - just the path of least resistanceLike water, people take the line of least resistance. In difficult situations they make choices. Granted,  these often seem to be of the `Hobson’s Choice‘ variety.

As water runs down hill, people do whatever it is to make there life as simple as possible.

But nevertheless…you make a choice. One way or another. Keep trying to stay in your child’s life. Or walk away. Do what is in the best interests of your child even though it causes you personal hardship. Or choose something else. Push for another hearing because it is likely a step closer to your goal. Or decide you’ve had enough and give up.

A different perspective

But how would it be if you could look at things in a different way? How would it be if the situation didn’t evoke the emotional response in you it did? How would it be if what you were facing were just another task to work on that you could go through calmly, clearly and knowing whatever happened you’d done `enough?

I can hear the howls from here. `It’s OK for you – you don’t know how it feels!!!’. `You say I have a choice – but I don’t!’. `It doesn’t matter what I do – no one will listen to me!’

How would it be if it didn’t matter what happened?

Read that sentence again…

I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. I’m asking you to imagine for a moment what it would feel like if it didn’t matter. Stop reading this, close your eyes and do that for a moment.

Able to do that? Yes?

You managed to feel OK for a moment? That’s because you can control your emotions. You can make yourself not worry about it. How about if you choose to feel like that all the time?

Yeah…I know. It’s all a bit hippy isn’t it? Next I’ll be opening up an online shop so you can buy joss sticks, Himalayan salt candles and download tracks of whale song. This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius…

Or maybe not.

It takes practice

If you could do that – how different would your life be? Would you sleep better at night? Would you care what your ex thought or said? Would you look after yourself more? Would you be in a better frame of mind when you worked on your case?

I think so.

In the 30-plus years between us that we’ve worked in civil litigation we’re shocked by how much attitude plays in the path of a situation compared to actual stuff like actual knowledge and use of the law in a court case. Because it isn’t just a court case…it’s your life.

All this can be done…if you are motivated enough. All this is just a tool you have and just need to use.

Our different view…

Which is why our top McKenzie Friend Michaela Wade is now a coach and hypnotherapist as well as using her amazing legal background and talent at helping people in court.

Because you’re key in this. You can make or break your own case – we can only offer advice. We want you to be clear, focused and on top of your game. And we can help.

It can be done. It’s up to you. We can help. But in the final analysis…it’s about what you want and how much work you’re willing to put into it.

________________________________________________

Want a free cheatsheet with some of these concepts? Click here!

Do you need a `Yes Man’ to help you in your case?

Yes!

Do you need to be validated?

It’s amazing how many people want to convince us that they’re right. We’re…no one. What we thinks doesn’t matter. We can’t make orders in the family court and give you what you want.

Our job could be really easy. We’ll invoice you, agree with you and if/when it goes wrong we’ll have a cup of coffee with you afterwards – telling you that you’ve been stitched up, that the courts are corrupt and that it’s a travesty of justice.

Shooting the messenger

We’re gluttons for punishment though. We’ll tell you that email wasn’t a good idea. We’ll tell you that what you want looks more like a way to stick it to the ex than be child-focused. We’ll tell you that if you keep this up you really need to think about firing us, saving your cash and doing what you were going to do in this first place.

Perhaps…perhaps you’ll listen to us. Perhaps you won’t – and instead you’ll conclude we’re just as bad as the court, your previous solicitor/McKenzie Friend, the social worker, CAFCASS, the psychologist, the school and everyone else…because we’re saying exactly the same thing as them.

Perhaps you’ll decide it’s our fault, fire us and instead to use that nice lady who will speak softly, make you a nice cup of tea and tell you how difficult it is. After all…you’re not paying someone to say stuff that you don’t like are you?

Crystal ballInconvenient truths or comforting lies?

Your solicitor or McKenzie Friend should do a little more than say stuff that gives you the warm fuzzies. That doesn’t mean they should be bullet-headed masochists who want to kick you when you’re down…but they should be able to tell you when you’re in the process of spectacularly screwing your own case up.

Sometimes you’re going to be right. Sometimes…not so much. You really need someone to tell you that. And you need to listen to that. Ever heard of the legend of Cassandra? The prophetess who was cursed to forever know exactly what was going to happen including awful disasters…but doomed to be ignored.

It’s scarily similar to how we feel at times.

A good advert

We want you to do well – let’s be honest…it doesn’t look good on us if too many of our clients got awful outcomes, would it? So we’re going to advise you what is most likely to achieve your goals.

Court is hard enough as it is – we don’t want to fight you too. We want all the energy we have to work together, to get the result that is right and to make it as easy as possible.

As always…it’s down to you.

Court cases and why it’s ALL your fault!

Not for those of a nervous disposition

We’re not going to apologise for saying stuff that you don’t want to hear. #sorrynotsorry

We’re going to be told we don’t understand how hard it is. How we’re kicking people when they’re down. Comments about how we’re meant to be helping people and not giving them a hard time. If we’re really lucky we may get a few nasty messages (it happens).

But what do you really want?

Tea and biscuits?

Tea and biscuits?

Someone who agrees with you, tells how awfully you’ve been treated and how biased the court system is…and then goes on to make an amazing cup of tea while offering you selection of nice biscuits?

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for somewhere to share experiences – consoled by the fact that others know how it feels and to swap war stories.

But there is more to it than that. Much more.

 

Are we just kicking you while you’re down?

You know that saying about a true friend being the one who tells you what you need to hear rather than what you want to hear…? Someone who is ready to have that hard conversation with you because they value you enough as a person to want you to do well?

There are thousands of people who will tell you what you want to hear and a multitude of Facebook groups jam packed with people who write long post over long periods about how their situation never changes.

If we’re honest it’s why you won’t find us posting in any of the many Facebook groups that exist to support parents and others in the family courts. It’s easy to be drowned out by people posting convenient platitudes rather than the inconvenient truths you’ll hear from us.

We want to help people…who are clear and serious about achieving goals that can be achieved with the court system. We’ve got a vested interest in doing our utmost to those we help get the best result possible.

All your fault

And here we are at the final bit of this post. The Jerry Springer – style soundbite past the clickbaity headline is this:

The outcome in a court case is influenced greatly by you. For good or bad. Your behaviour and actions have more impact than you’d think if you’re a big fan of those Facebook groups dominated by that man or woman who tells you how awful it is, how they were skinned alive in their court hearing but forget to mention how they told the judge or a barrister he/she was a c**t in the final hearing – it happens – we’ve seen this.

The man or woman who was focused, considered and did what was needed…they’re not posting in that group. They’ve moved on and working on building a better life and not telling everyone about how you may as well give up.

And your reaction to this post will be telling too. Are you now thinking `Maybe I could do some things better?‘ or are you already formulating the response about why it is someone else’s fault?

Which is it to be?