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!

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?