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.

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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?

How to lose friends and alienate people (in court)

Fallout Shelter sign

Mutually assured destruction – when destroying the other side is more important than your own survival

We often tell people that family law is more of an art than a science. There are few guarantees. Lots of variables. And a hefty dose of catching the right judge at the right time.

But there are a few sure fire ways to help or hinder your case.

Today. An object lesson in what to do if you really want to shoot yourself in the foot when you make an application.

Number one: Give up

The absolute best way, guaranteed to achieve nothing. Say the courts are biased, that they won’t enforce their own orders, listen to what your mates say and decide to save yourself the hassle. It doesn’t matter if these are all true.

But if you only do one thing to fail…this is it.

Number two: Talk about your case on social media

It’s a winner! You’ll give your ex ammunition to use against you (and his/her solicitor too), possibly give them a heads up against what your situation is and allow them to spend the entire hearing discussing this rather than stuff like contact. It’ll irritate the court too. It may even cause you to face contempt of court charges.

…but you at least you can say you had your say.

Number three: Label your ex as a narcissist or a parental alienator

You may be in court to discuss contact and not your ex partner’s mental state. You may not be a qualified psychologist, nor appointed by the court or an impartial figure. But you can use the time to pin a label on your ex.

Bonus points for taking in news clippings to back up your views but the court won’t be interested in them.

Number four: Fighting fire with fire/telling the court like it is

You’ve been labelled as angry, aggressive and contrary – and to show the court this isn’t the case you’re going to fight everyone. Every step of the way. You’re going to counter allegation with allegation. Do things `on principle’. Do stuff to see how your ex partner likes it. Tell the court what you think of it.

You won’t get contact or time with your children…but at least you didn’t bow down to anyone.

The Jerry Springer-style wrap up

The family law courts are full of angry and upset people.  It’s quite possible that you’re one of them and reading this has made you angry and upset.

But the courts are set up to deal with angry and upset people…it’s something they’re really good at doing. As always – it’s all about focus. What are you in court for in the first place?

Think carefully before you act.

Paperwork madness: What do I do about bundles and statements?

Represent myself? Won't there be too much paperwork?Court cases and mountains of paperwork…

…but is it all really necessary? Will it actually make any difference to your case?

It’s a great question. It’s possible that you can turn up at your next hearing with nothing at all, that the court will listen to you, take into account that you’re a litigant-in-person who doesn’t understand the bedroom reading that is Practice Direction 27A and make an order that you feel is fair and in the best interests of your child.

In the same way it’s likely that on the way to the hearing you won’t need the restraint of your seat belt because you’re not going to drive into the back of the car in front of you. We’re guessing that despite this you usually buckle up when you go for drive though.

Clunk click every trip.

Overkill? You decide.

It’s all about the judgement isn’t it? It’s a risk you decide is or isn’t acceptable. Some things are worth punting – some things aren’t.

Court paperwork can be like a seatbeltWhen you’re in the family courts it’s your how much money you’ll be left with when the dust settles from the divorce or separation. Or when your children will be able to see you. You know how important it is to you. When you ask us, we’ll tell you if we think it is worth putting together than trial bundle. That statement. Anything else.

We can be a cautious bunch here at Family Law Towers. We’re great at doing things on the fly. Which is useful when it comes to helping you in negotiations. When you’ve got the police knocking at your door. When you’ve been pole-axed by a piece of information at precisely the wrong moment.

But when that sort of stuff isn’t happening we like to prepare, organise and decide what an acceptable risk is. The decision is yours however and we’ll support you in whatever way you choose…