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!

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?

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.

Witnesses - need to witness and not repeat hearsay

Witnesses and witness statements. Are they worth it?

Witnesses need to have first hand experience of what they're talking about - not hearsayWitnesses: My friends have written me witness statements I want to show the court

It’s a phrase we often hear at just about any point in a court hearing when discussing witnesses. And it’s entirely understandable. You are hurt, angry and worn down by accusations you know aren’t true. Statements and letters from your ex partner’s solicitor list words and actions you know have no basis in truth.

A witness statement defending your good character can only help, yes?

Like we say…we’re not going to blame you for wanting to do this.

But.

It won’t you do you any good either

Think about it.

You have a chance to show the court documents that help even things out a little. To show you are well liked, decent, fair and a good parent and/or partner.

You’re not going to submit something that doesn’t say this though are you? You’re going to select something that backs up your position. And your closest family members will only ever write something nice in the first place won’t they?

The court won’t object to you submitting these statements of course. But it may well not pay them too much attention too.

There’s something worth reminding anyone who says they will write you a statement of something important too: They’ll need to be available to go to court to be examined on what they’ve written. By the judge. Or the other side’s solicitor/barrister.

You’d be surprised how many people change their mind when you do this. Many people suddenly realise they `don’t want to get involved’.

So are witness statements a waste of time?

The answer is black and white: No.

Witnesses can make a huge difference. We’ve known them to swing cases.

Here are a few things that make a good witness. You need someone who:

  • Isn’t an `interested party’. So no friends. No family members. Someone who is seen as neutral and `respectable’ by the court. The best witness we ever saw was the vicar of the church both parties attended. You get the picture.
  • Is prepared to wait around all day and then called into court to be cross-examined by someone who does it for a living and can ask some very tricky questions.
  • Actually saw stuff that is relevant to the case. Not someone who heard from you or someone else. Not someone who will say he/she has always been an awful person.

Should I use witnesses?

The truth is that in many circumstances there are few (if any) decent witnesses who are going to enhance the strength of a case. At best many witnesses add nothing and at worst muddy the waters and cause focus to be lost.

That’s not to say a good witness isn’t worth their weight in gold – they can be invaluable. But like many other aspects of handling your own case it is all about judgement.

Don’t sweat this, but keep your eye on the ball.

NB – there are another kind of witness you’ll find in court. Single joint experts – appointed by the court, but we’ll speak about them another time.

The Family Court – Does going in all guns blazing work?

The Family Court. It isn’t the legal equivalent of the gunfight at the OK Corral.

Yet it’s amazing how many people tell us they’re going in all guns blazing to win a sudden and decisive victory against an ex partner who has said and/or done things they shouldn’t have.

It’s a (depressingly) normal reaction to do so however. And for people like us – people who are trying to help you and have seen hundreds (thousands?) of people in the Family Court – it’s something we do our best to manage.

You won’t get what you want by being aggressive in the Family Court.

Don't treat the Family Court like the gunfight at the OK CorralIt’s amazing we have to say this. Especially as it’s all too common for allegations of aggression to be made. You’ve been accused of being aggressive, controlling and obsessive…so your response is to act aggressive, be seen to attempt to control the situation and to be obsessive over every email your ex has sent, every time they’ve turned out 5 minutes late…on a spreadsheet.

Seriously. We’ve seen this happen. And it doesn’t work.

It’s almost like the Family Court is designed to deal with people being awkward

So you go to court. You consider your case exceptional (of course it is – it’s a very personal subject). You think that with the force of your argument the court will acquiesce to what you are seeking.

Except it doesn’t work like that.

The court sees cases like yours day in, day out. The judge you are seeing may see dozens of people like you, saying the same sort of thing day in – day out. We do too.

The Family Court wants one thing

And that is? A resolution to your case. The best outcome is you working something out with your ex and you disappearing into a bright new future. Otherwise it wants to make a quick, easy and long term order that means you…disappearing into a bright new future. Which in the court’s eyes means you going away and not coming back again.

So what does this mean to you? Something simple:

Don’t be the bad guy who has nothing to offer the court other than dealing with your `fighty’ attitude.

Because if that happens…you’ll be disappointed. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t get to present all your evidence at the first hearing in all likelihood. You won’t get to prove your ex is a liar (even if it is relevant to your case and it probably isn’t). You won’t score a knockout blow.

So relax. Plan. Take it easy. Be patient!

5 things we’re always asked

McKenzie Friends: What we’re always asked.

We get asked all sorts of questions. Some of them are complicated, some are simple – it kind of goes with the territory of what we do on a day to day basis.

But we hear quite a few myths about McKenzie Friends – many of which are untrue. They confuse people so without further ado here’s a run down on the biggies.

Can you represent me?

No. Only a solicitor or a barrister can do that. Its’ worth thinking for a moment what being `represented’ actually mean in a court context. Here it means someone who can speak for you in court. Respond to other people on your behalf – write to your ex and/or their solicitor. Sign documents. Solicitors and barristers are officers of the court.

As that link says:

Although solicitors must fearlessly advance their clients’ cases, they are not “hired guns” whose only duty is to their client. They also owe duties to the courts, third parties and to the public interest.

So we can’t. We can offer you advice, help with paperwork, that sort of thing – but we cannot represent you. But over the decade we’ve assist people we’ve come up with a pretty good way of both following the rules about what we can do and providing you with the help you need!

Are you solicitors?

See above. Solicitors are officers of the court (see above). They’re legally qualified.

McKenzie Friends don’t have to be qualified either but some are (Michaela Wade is a CILEX-qualified paralegal). Others have a wide range of skills and experience.

Can you give me legal advice?

Yes! 4.) iv of Practice Guidance: McKenzie Friends (Civil and Family Courts) says a McKenzie Friend can `quietly give advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case’.

Our advice is based on our legal knowledge (as I say above our team includes qualified individuals) and experience of a large number of wide-varying cases over the years. We’ll tell you what we think the best action to progress the situation is – and you are free to follow or disregard it at any point. We’ll tell you what the court has the power to do and not to do, what the likely response of the court and others involved in the case will be and how to handle changing situations.

It’s really as simple as that.

Can you come to court with me?

Yes! We’re really not sure why people seem to think we can’t. We can! Speak to many legal professionals and they’ll be under the impression that is all we do – they think we’ll turn up on the day, sit with you and go away when the hearing ends (Pro-tip: We do a lot more than that!)

The only time we can’t be with you is during CAFCASS conciliation appointments (mediation before a hearing) – but neither can your solicitor be if you have one instead of us assisting you.

So we can be with you at all points – including when it comes to going into the court room to speak to the judge or magistrates.

Can I change the judge/CAFCASS officer/social worker?

Maybe. But seriously…99.99% of the time it isn’t going to work and it isn’t going to help trying. It’s understandable especially if things aren’t going the way you’d like. The processes to achieve this are there – but for obvious reasons they tend to be a lot harder than actually working with the system to get the desired result.

It’s important to look at the big picture too. Judges, CAFCASS officers, social workers – they often move on over the life span of a case so it’s quite possible that whoever you aren’t particularly enamoured won’t be involved before long in any case.

This last one is a controversial – I know. But it’s a fact. Court cases are hard. Fighting the people involved in the system is even harder and you should conserve your energy on your primary goal.

Wrap up

If you’re not clear on what your McKenzie Friend can do – ask. Read. Practice Guidance on McKenzie Friends is the definitive guide to what we can and can’t do. Anything else you’re reading is just rumour!

Live, Thrive and Survive in the Family Courts

The Family Courts: Whether you go to a hearing alone, use a Family Law Assistance McKenzie Friend or a solicitor or barrister being a litigant in the family court can be hard. That’s not surprising – because what happens will likely affect your life in a material way.

It’ll be about whether your children live with you or see you. Whether you stay in your home – or have enough money to buy somewhere else. Dealing with the fall out of the end of a marriage or relationship. For many people it’s all of these things, at the same time.

You’re likely tired, wounded, stressed and unable to see a future you’ll enjoy.

You need to be clear about what you want, how to ask for it and how to make sure you are resilient, focused and determined to ensure the outcome you desire has the greatest chance of success. And how to deal with the aftermath so the past remains in the past and you move forward to a happier and more prosperous future.

A fresh start

Which is where our workshop comes in. Between us we have around 30 years of legal experience But over the years we’ve also given strategies to hundreds of people to allow them to deal with their situation by reframing the challenges they face, by focusing on their goals and by showing them to deal with the challenges they face.

And this side of our work has provided a lot of help – many of our clients saying things like `I’m able to sleep for the first time in months!’

So after much work (and training to further enhance our skills in this area) we’re now ready to offer these skills to anyone facing a court case.

Join us!

Michaela and Steven Wade - McKenzie Friends working in the Family CourtsOn Saturday, 13th October 2018 we’ll be running our workshop in Newport, South Wales. Our special Early Bird price is just £79 and £99 after they’re gone. And when they’re gone, they’re gone!

Among others we’ll be covering:

Tickets are on sale now here.

See you there!

FindingofFact areyouthemonsteryouarepaintedtobe?

A litigant in person’s guide to a Finding of Fact (part 1)

Finding of Fact - a chance to deal with allegationsA Finding of Fact is the chance to deal with allegations you face

It’s a reasonable question we’re asked on a regular basis:

When do I get to tell my side of the story?

It’s not just a reasonable question either. It’s a normal response too! But as a litigant in person you need to understand the rules the court works to – which differ massively from the real world.

When I say `rules’ I don’t mean Practice Direction, CPR or the Children Act itself either.

What I mean is the fundamental way the court works. Attend a hearing and the judge/magistrates/someone else will hear from you and decide what to do. In child contact cases, etc. allegations are very, very common (I can count on one hand the cases I have helped out with out of the many hundreds where there haven’t been any).

The court will have seen thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. And it doesn’t have the time to investigate every single allegation made in every case. Seriously.

So when you attend a hearing and are accused of something the court has a few different options:

  1. Ignore them entirely.
  2. Ask you about them.
  3. Call a Finding of Fact.

Finding of Fact - are you the monster you are painted to be?In my experience options 1 and 2 by far the most common. If it’s number 1 you may well be left feeling short changed – you’ve had no chance to call your accuser out. But remember…in a child contact case the hearing isn’t about that. It’s about `the best interests of the child’. From your point of view it is by far the best option however. Which it means in effect is this:

  • The court has decided the accusations are stupid/false/irrelevant and not even worth responding to.

A `win’ surely?

Which incidentally should by and large be your response. Remember the mantra? `I refute all allegations‘.

Of course, if option 2 comes up you get the chance to say your piece.

So what happens at a Finding of Fact hearing?

If it’s option 3 and a Finding of Fact is called, that’ll be when you get a chance to respond. With the advent of the amendment of Practice Direction 12J it looks like Finding of Facts are becoming more common. How common remains to be seen but it depends on the allegation and view of the court before.

We’ll be covering the nuts and bolts of the actual hearing itself very soon…