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.

When things can get no worse

Rock bottom

It can be a liberating, feeling things can get no worse. In the moment you feel that you’ve lost everything freedom awaits.

If your children are not seeing you at all – you’re not going to lose any more contact. If you’ve lost your home – it can’t be taken from you. If you’ve lost a relationship you deeply wanted – time will heal all.

We’ve been there.

But while you feel you are at the bottom it’s easy to feel like it is the end. It doesn’t have to be.

An open door - all you need to do is go through it

An open door – all you need to do is go through it

The end?

So it’s paradoxical. The moment you feel you have lost everything could and should be the moment you feel the slate has been wiped clean, you have nothing to lose and nothing you do is going to make anything worse (of course…act unwisely things won’t get worse but otherwise they can get better).

In the instant you could feel utterly powerless you could instead feel empowered like you have never been before.

`OK’ I hear you say – `What’s the point of all this?’ I hear you say?

Simple!

The beginning

…and the answer is…`It’s all up to you’.

Or more accurately – it’s all about mindset. It’s all about perception. It’s all about how you frame things. Of course, it’s easier said than done but it is possible. What would it be like if you were happy despite what was going on around you? What would it be like if you felt relaxed about the future and whatever it (or your ex) threw at you? What if?

Well…for a start we’d be out of a job here at Family Law Assistance. Because our clients’ cases would be shorter; they’d handle whatever they faced in a calm and calculated manner, they’d realise that most of what worried them in the past was just something to deal with.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

The power

You have the power. We can only show the door but you have to walk through it. And a great place to start is to come and meet us on Saturday, 19th January 2019 in Manchester. One day. Less than the cost of an hour with a solicitor or one of us attending a hearing with you. The cost of a great night out.

See you there. We’re truly excited about how the last workshop went in Newport and we’re looking forward to the next one – to see the transformation of the lives of those who attend.

What your ex partner thinks about you: Does it matter?

Does your ex partner control you by the power of their mind?

Does your ex partner control you by the power of their mind?

It’s not that surprising that many people worry about what their ex partner thinks of them. Some of the things they worry about includes:

  • Whether he/she thinks they are a good parent.
  • Whether he/she values them as a good parent.
  • Whether he/she sees them as an equal parent.
  • What he/she will think about various aspects of the child’s life. Food. Activities. Who they interact with.

There’s something worth remembering about this.

What the ex thinks doesn’t matter. What they do (if it affects your child and/or their relationship with you) does.

Your ex can think what they like

It doesn’t matter what they think. No…stay with me here.

They can think you’re a truly terrible person. To the right of Attila the Hun. Someone who spends his/her spare time twisting the heads off fluffy kittens or got a birthmark in your hair that looks like the number 666.

What they do on the other hand does…that’s a horse of a different colour as Michaela Wade is fond of saying.

And yet…many people give waaaaay too much airtime to what their ex thinks of them. It enrages or saddens them. Or makes them give up. Or make a decision about based purely on something that shouldn’t matter.

Even worse than worrying about what your ex partner thinks is trying to guess what they think...

Even worse than worrying about what your ex partner thinks is trying to guess what they think…

Mind reading

To compound matters – in many high conflict situations communication is limited too, absent or strained. This seldom helps. You. Your ex. Most of all your child. And what doesn’t help either is the interpretation people will do to try to understand what an ex partner thinks or means.

You’re suspicious. Upset. Hyper aware of the situation.

And now…not only are you worrying about what the ex partner thinks…you’ve decided what they’re thinking.

Despite all this, it’s actually good news.

You don’t need to care what your ex partner thinks

This is spectacularly good news for you. What your ex thinks doesn’t matter. What does matter is what they do. You have options if your ex acts against the best interests of your child. But you don’t have a crystal ball. You’re not a mind reader. You’re not able to control what your ex.

But you do have the power to control the way you think. And what you do.

You’ve got this.

If not…would you like to learn how?

How to Live, Thrive and Survive in the Family Courts!

Self care - the elephant in the room in the family courtsSeeing the wood for the trees in the family courts

It’s easy to forget isn’t it? It gets lost doesn’t it?

Amongst the court orders, letters from solicitors and practice direction. Trial bundles. Waiting to go into court. All nighters preparing paperwork.

All of these relate to the case you’re about to embark on, are involved in, have been involved in. They’re the nuts and bolts. Your case may be about children. Money. Your relationship. Or something else.

You’ve likely given a lot of thought to all of the above but I’m guessing there is one thing you almost certainly haven’t considered.

And that’s you.

It starts and stops here.

It’s normal to feel like a passive figure in your own case. Maybe that’s because you have a solicitor and sit at the back while he/she outlines your position. Possibly it’s because it’s in the family courts for your children and it’s been impressed on you by everyone that it’s about them and it’s not about you. You may feel a bit like this.

It’s odd though isn’t it? You’re in court because of something that affects you massively. And yet you are…lost. You may as well not be there.

The missing 50%

Between us we’ve worked for over 30 years in civil litigation – that’s family law, contract law, CMS and employment tribunals (and more – Michaela was once asked to attend a mortuary in South London in connection with a will…but I digress).

And over the years it’s been very clear that dealing the emotional side is important. To the extent it can make or break a case. A large part of what we do is helping people see things in a perspective that keeps them focused, shows them it isn’t hopeless (it often isn’t – seriously) and possibly giving them a little light relief when it’s needed.

Your mental state is a huge part. It’s a make or break.

You’re at the centre

The bottom like is – look after yourself. Don’t forget you. I’m not going to provide a list of things you should or shouldn’t to do that – because you know. I’m saying that occasionally sit up and ask yourself `What am I doing to look after myself?’

Of course – if you need help doing that, get in touch. We’re running the first workshop of it’s type in the country to train people how to do this. We’re going to teach you some of the tactics we would if we were assisting you in court on Saturday, 13th October 2018 in Newport, South Wales. Michaela Wade will be leading this – as well as being one of the top McKenzie Friends in the country and a qualified paralegal she’s also a NLP Coach and hypnotherapist.

It’s the first of it’s kind and we’re massively excited to do this. It’s a game changer for you. For the cost of a meeting with us you’ll learn over a day tactics that will change your outlook on the legal process you’re enmeshed in and understand how to live, thrive and survive in the family courts!

See you there – don’t miss out!

Tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/live-thrive-and-survive-in-the-family-courts-tickets-48298292493

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!

You have the power!

Empowerment isn’t just a word used by hippy life coaches and ever-grinning American motivational speakers with unblinking eyes.

Mindset is everything!

I hesitate to type this. Because in the wonderful world of Family Law the weary troops in the trenches will inevitably say something like `It’s easy for you to say’ or `Yes but it’s hard’.

Yes…it’s hard. And we have personal experience of it. We’re not belittling you or the struggles you’re going through. But in a period that you feel utterly powerless, demoralised and done-to rather than doing the merest spark in the dark can make a huge difference. It can give you hope. Something to build on. The knowledge that it isn’t completely and utterly all bad.

The little things count here, OK?

You have power over your mindset

You’re responsible for the way you feel, how you act and what you say. Nothing more. You’re not beaten until you give up. You’re not the bad guy unless you have been shown to be. No matter what anyone else thinks. To thine own self be true as Bill wrote many years ago. You can’t be forced to give up either.

The right mindset is powerful

With this in mind…why would a hostile ex with a hostile solicitor or barrister say your application has no merit, that there is large amounts of evidence detailing what a terrible person you are and that if you are nice they may decide to drop the whole silly costs application against you which currently stand in the tens of thousands (I kid you not…I’ve seen all of these happen)?

Anyone? Bueller?

So with all this in mind (pun intended) – what’s it going to be?

To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (sorry…another Shakespeare reference – I’m in a Tudor kind of mood tonight)? Or will you decide that you’re going to do your best and be able to look back with a clear conscience and the knowledge there was nothing more you could do?

Your call.

Thestatusquo:Stickingyourheadinthesand orthepubisn'talwaysthebestoption

The Status Quo: Going to the Winchester and waiting for it to all blow over

The status quo builds an argument to not make an order or a change in circumstancesIf you want something to change, waiting for a status quo to build is absolutely the worst thing you can do.

No mincing of words here guys and gals. The clock is ticking. And every day you wait the better and stronger the argument is that a court should do nothing to change things (it’s called `the no order’ principle).

Hoping your ex will calm down/act reasonably/see sense/get told that he/she is being unreasonable and will agree to what you want is a big risk.

Have your kids not seen you for six months? Imagine the scene in court once you finally realise you have no option but to make an application:

`Sir, my client is a little confused why the applicant has only just chosen to bring this matter before you. The current arrangement has clearly worked well and I am surprised the applicant hasn’t raised this matter sooner if he/she felt it wasn’t in the best interests of the children sooner. I therefore ask that the court dismiss this application’.

Pro-tip: Saying you didn’t know what to do or you were hoping things would get better won’t hold much weight.

The previous President of the Family Division, Baroness Butler-Sloss (and many other judges) have said over the years that the status quo is a significant factor when deciding to make an order that changes the current arrangements (whether you have agreed to them or not too…because doing nothing counts as agreement).

The status quo: Sticking your head in the sand - or the pub isn't always the best option

When is a status quo not a status quo?

This doesn’t mean you should hop, skip and jump into court either: For example if contact is denied or an order is breached in a way that doesn’t disrupt the status quo hold fire.  One (or even two) lost contact sessions doesn’t automatically mean it’s time to send the enforcement application in and/or go for an emergency one.

As always, look at the big picture.

Sometimes the status quo is a good thing

With the above in mind there are times when the status quo can actually benefit you. Do you have regular contact and it’s then stopped? Or overnights? Or regularly take the children abroad without incident only to be told you are not permitted to?

Document it. Record it. Cultivate it. Especially if it’s not in a court order.

If you can build this sort of thing up without a court case…brilliant! And if things do end up in front of the man behind the big desk you can use the status quo argument in your favour. Of course, like anything else in the family courts there are no silver bullets, no guarantees – but remember…it’s a marathon and not a sprint.