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.

Give a dog a bad name?

Separated Parents and Second Class Parent – why language is important

Second prize? Separated parent?Separated parents: It can be a minefield

It’s hard enough not having your children in your lives – especially if you are the minority of carer and didn’t choose to be. It’s even harder when the world insists on reminding you. The words used by many can sting.

You may be called a `Non resident parent‘. Or an `absent’ one. You may be told you are a `minority’ carer and as such the primary carer can veto anything you say or do. You may see in a CAFCASS report that your child `lives at the family home with the other parent’. You may hear about your children going `back’ to the other parent.

And much more. You’re number 2. As Buzz Aldrin (the second man on the Moon) says in an episode of `The Simpsons’ stony faced `Second comes right after first!

Give a dog a bad name?Separated parents – give a dog a bad name

It’s easy to internalise all this. Easy to accept that as the world sees you as less than a full parent you will begin to believe it yourself.

What’s worse is that once this starts happening there is a great chance you will start acting in a self defeating manner. You’ll abandon hope, feel like you are powerless and behave as if you aren’t a normal mum or dad.

Don’t fall into this trap

Separated parents – there is no such thing as a second class parent

Act like the parent you would be if your child were with you on a full time basis. Kids need bedrooms, right? With toys, clothes, pictures, etc. If he or she went to visit another family member they’d not being going `back’ to them. If you were still with your ex – a fully involved mother or father.

Yes, it’s hard. In the fact of unrelenting negativity from a hostile ex partner and outside world it is an easy trap to fall into. It’s all too easy to become defeated before the first metaphorical shot is fired if that is what has happened (or may happen).

But act like the parent you are: You are a mum or a dad regardless of what has happened and no one can take that away from you.

Eleven hundred reasons to avoid the Family Court

Eleven hundred reasons not to use the Family Court

The Family Court should be the last resort

We spend as much time telling people not to get involved in the Family Court as much as we do actually helping them by the time they are in it.

They’ll come to us looking for the best solution. Which may be getting back with your ex. Or talking to him or her. Maybe it is attempting mediation. Or biting the bullet.

Only you’ll know if any of these are possible and/or you can live with any of these potential outcomes.

But going to the Family Court. If you can avoid it…do so.

That’s because making an application to change a situation is effectively pressing the nuclear button and is (in the short term at least) liable to make things worse than they already are; although to be fair – you have little to lose if things couldn’t get worse (such as being told in a child contact dispute that you’ll never see your kids again).

Speak to us and we’ll tell you if things could get worse – and believe us here…there is always someone worse off than yourself. Chances are we’ve assisted them too.

Eleven hundred reasons to avoid the Family CourtThe Family Court can be difficult to deal with

A little context. A client we recently assisted has a long-standing contact dispute with considerable hostility but no welfare concerns. Contact stops. And starts. And stops again. So for a recent final hearing we assisted our client with a trial bundle to be used before magistrates.

That means 6 copies. Of 350 pages each – the limit according to Practice Direction 27A (although we were involved in another case recently where the bundle was 900 pages before the bemused judge suggested that the other party’s solicitor trimmed down the behemoth they had created).

So for a simple contact dispute there is a bundle (not the first one either) that you wouldn’t want to drop on your foot. Another final hearing (again…not the first one). Lost time for client from work. The fees they have paid. The heartache. All the incidental costs of dealing with a hostile ex partner.

In this case – it’s not avoidable. If only it were!

If you are in the Family Court it’s hard work

Of course, despite our protestations that you should avoid the Family Court if you are don’t leave any stone unturned. Don’t expect things to all blow over. Don’t skimp on preparation. As always…it’s about focus (we know, we know…).

But the real focus is not about going to court if that’s a possibility. It’s about working out what your goal is and working backwards from there. Court is seldom the easy answer and even less seldom the way to achieve an outcome you’re happy with.

Avoid it if you can whether you are the resident or non resident parent unless there is no other option.

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.

Hit the Road Jack! Do I need to leave my home?

Hit the Road Jack: When your ex wants to throw you out

Hit the Road Jack! Do I have to leave my home.Being the music lovers we are here at Family Law Assistance Towers we hear many lyrics that resonate with us because of recent conversations we’ve had with people in relation to their situation.

Just recently it was the hoary old chestnut of `The ex is trying make me leave my home – what do I do?’. Often the speaker is already out – living with parents, sofa surfing or in a worst-case-scenario living on the streets. We’ve known all of these to happen.

For whatever reason it tends to be the male partner who is facing this situation; speculation on why this is the case is something for another day.

Typically he’ll have left under the pressure of persuasion of an ex partner, her parents, the police, her solicitor or a combination thereof.

It’s not black and white…

Do I have to leave my home? The legal position.

As always…it depends. If one of the below is true the answer is `No – you do not have to move out’:

  1. You are married to your ex partner.
  2. You are unmarried but your name is on the tenancy/mortgage.

If neither of the above is true you have a legal right to remain in a property.

Why do people leave if this is the case? It’s because of the pressure they are under. The ignorance. Because of a sense of old-fashioned duty to do `the right thing’ in terms of an ex wife/female partner and/or children. Sometimes it is…sometimes it isn’t. The devil is in the detail.

Do I have to leave my home?

When you do have to move out from a legal perspective it is because:

  1. There is a court order telling you to (including an occupation order).
  2. You aren’t married and aren’t on the tenancy agreement/mortgage and you ex partner asks you to.

Of course – that’s not say that it is quite possible to be legally entitled to stay but are in a situation where there are good and pragmatic reasons to leave but again…that’s a discussion for another day.

What is the impact of leaving your home on divorce and/or children?

In short: You have just handed a MAJOR tactical advantage to your ex partner without a metaphorical shot being fired.

You’ve abandoned the family home. Your ex partner. Your children. Voluntarily. It will quite possibly be used against you. If child contact issues, etc. are unresolved you have ensured that the children have remained in the family home giving them the stability they need. You will also be seen by any council, housing association, etc. as voluntarily making yourself homeless.

Don’t think this will make any difference in what you may consider an eventual `fair’ outcome. Trust me. It won’t. Think carefully before you leave your home. Don’t do it. Get advice before doing so.

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…

Litigant in person. Court coffee isn't great.

4 more things that will never happen in court

In court some thing never happen…if you’re a litigant in person this guide may help

…and in the second post of it’s type we have another 4 things that’ll never happen in court. It’s important to be focused when you are in court. Important to know what the court can and can and can’t do. You need to understand too whether what you are asking is going to help in the scheme of things more make them worse.

So without further ado here are…

Another 4 things that (may) happen in your dreams but almost certainly won’t happen in court

As a litigant in person you are unlikely to see a unicorn in court.The court orders your ex to communicate with you.

Your ex has been ignoring you.  Refused mediation. Won’t respond to emails. Texts. Phone calls. Voicemails. You and your child are disadvantaged by the complete and utter lack of communication you’re facing. You’ve missed handovers, not known about medical issues or even the name of the new partner your child spends the bulk of their time with.

Why won’t it happen? Because the court cannot order communication. It can only suggest. Advise. Say it is in the best interests of the child. But it cannot force it to happen.

 

Being a litigant in person ain't LA LawYou feel utterly vindicated when walking out of a hearing.

We all love courtroom dramas. We’ve seen LA Law, Judge John Deed and Suits. It’s your day in court. It’s glamorous, it’s exciting and you’ll walk down the large steps of a large neoclassical court house to punch the air and know that in this world there is justice out there.

Except you won’t. It’s not a time for victory. Chances are that even if you get everything you set out to achieve it’ll be a Pyrrhic victory and you’ll ask us `Why couldn’t we have done this without the fight?’

 

Everything goes to plan.

You arrive for your first hearing. The Schedule 2 letter is there. The court orders statements to be exchanged by a certain date. A bundle is ordered. Practice Direction is adhered to strictly and to the timetable is too. You go into court the right time.

Don’t be surprised when this doesn’t happen. The more cynical would say timetables, deadlines and Practice Directions are as Captain Jack Sparrow would say…`the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules’. Don’t sweat the small stuff and don’t expect there to be any consequences for things not going to plan.

 

Litigant in person. Court coffee isn't great.You’ll get a great cup of coffee.

OK, you got us. It does happen. Sometimes. The Royal Courts of Justice has a Costa (if you like that sort of thing). But if you’re lucky expect a machine that looks like a prop from `Life on Mars’. With brown fluid that comes out when you press the coffee button. It’s as good as it gets though…

 

Litigant in person: Focus is your greatest tool.

As always this is all about focus. I know. You’re bored of hearing it and we’re bored of saying it. But choose your battles. Know your target. Don’t die on that hill. Be clear about what you want and what can be done.

Represent myself? It's not doing a jigsaw puzzle!

I can’t represent myself? Yes you can!

Represent myself? I can’t do that!

Can I?? <Insert stuff about legal professionals, highly complex law and you not being up to it ;-)>

This is something we hear often. It may surprise you but the reality is many people that decide to represent themselves do so for a number of reasons – not just cost. True…some do so because they can’t afford solicitors (starting at around £250 an hour) and barristers (prices available upon request) but it is true but a lot of people choose to do so because they haven’t felt they’ve been represented adequately in the past. The phrase `I sat there without saying a word while my solicitor/barrister ignored everything I’d told him/her and just agreed to stuff I didn’t want’ is fairly typical.

I am not taking away from the amazing work many solicitors and barristers do. But why would anyone want to represent themselves? Simple! They have the who, what, why and when on the tip of their tongue. If it’s a child contact dispute then no one is going to know their child better than you! If it’s finance case then no one is going to know what that £200 you withdrew law year more than you!

But I’m not allowed to represent myself am I?

Represent myself? It's not doing a jigsaw puzzle!You are. You have a legal right to do so.

Litigants in persons have got some stick over the years and have been accused of prolonging the court process. Sure, they need guidance on how court procedure – what forms to fill in, what to say in court, what they can and can’t do – but you can sure as hell bet you won’t want to be there if there is an alternative.

Courts are always a last-chance saloon. Aside from the fact that the coffee leaves much to be desired (although there is a nice cafe in Newport, Leicester has a passable canteen and the Royal Courts of Justice has a Costa stand) it is also an adversarial place. Tempers are frayed, emotions run high. There’s a good chance you are going to hear some not nice things said about you and you are undoubtedly going to feel frustrated.

As a McKenzie Friend I see this all too often. I’ve been doing it for too many years to be surprised about anything. I have seen people jumping on tables after a court hearing shouting “’It’s not fair” in a toddler style; I’ve seen grown men cry after being reunited with their children and I’ve seen a mother disintegrate on the floor after her child was removed from her care.

It’s fair to say that not much surprises me and I know how to react to drama such as this.

It also means I can provide some hints on good practice to make your legal experience easier and more successful.

Here we go.

Represent myself in court. 3 Top Tips

  1. Represent myself? Won't there be too much paperwork?Be Organised! Don’t stick all of those papers in the breadbin! Get yourself a lever arch folder and put all of your communication in date order. This will help you in the long run.
  2. Take someone with you. Preferably a Mckenzie Friend. You may be organised but that won’t mean you will be any less emotional. Ideally you need someone to be in the court room with you so that they can explain any “legalese” or tell you to wind your neck in or to tell you to get to the point. We specialise in kicking people under the table at appropriate points.
  3. Be focused: Whether it’s child or money matters keep it focused at all times. Don’t discuss things that aren’t relevant – and know what is relevant by understanding what matters to the court and what isn’t.

The truth is that this isn’t rocket science. If you’re organised, focused and calm you already have increased your chances of success without knowing any law whatsoever greatly. These are things that anyone can do if they are determined enough – and with the stakes potentially being so high you’ll have plenty of motivation!

How do I represent myself? Confidence is a good start!

How do I represent myself in court? How to do it in 2018

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

How do I represent myself? Confidence is a good start!

2018 – New Year, new you? Or the same old issues you feel chained to for many years to come?

It’s easy to feel powerless when you are involved in the family or other civil courts. Easy to feel a hostile ex partner pulls your strings, casts a shadow and dominates your day-to-day life.

It doesn’t have to be like that.

Ask yourself `If I represent myself in court how would that help?’

Some good answers here:

  • Because you can.
  • You’ll empower yourself.
  • You will be stronger and more confident after doing so.
  • No one knows the case quite like you.
  • Or cares.

Oh…and you’ll save a lot of cash too. If that sort of thing interests you.

It’s normal to think your situation is unique. That your ex is doing new and inventive ways to break court orders and that he/she will continue to do so until Doomsday without any consequence.

But the truth is that nothing is new under the sun. Whatever your position someone has gone through it before and learned whether their response to it has worked or not.

You can learn too: Is what you’re doing working? Has it made things better? Worse? Or made no difference?

Represent myself? Some basics.

Represent myself? You can do it - but it's a marathon not a sprint.Put aside your feelings. Yes, I know it’s a bit Zen…in many cases we’re talking about your children here aren’t we? But if you are the sort of person who would do anything for your kids would that include keeping your mouth shut at the optimal time, focusing about your goals, being realistic about what you can achieve or not lashing out at anyone who is nearby and being patient?

You have way more power than you could ever imagine. And you are defeated only when you give up.

So make 2018 a year things change. Take control of your life. Take control of your own actions and know you cannot change anyone else. The information is out there.

It’s yours to lose. What you going to do different this year?

The Family Law Assistance Advent Calendar. Learn how to represent yourself with our video guides!

Represent yourself – the Family Law Assistance Advent Calendar

Represent yourself in court. Speak to some and there will be a sharp intake of breath and a suggestion that doing so is like doing DIY brain surgery or trying to launch yourself to the Moon in something you knocked up in the garden shed. Experts and our learn’d friends will counsel you not to do so and to seek the assistance of a professional.

The Family Law Assistance Advent Calendar. Learn how to represent yourself with our video guides!And yet plenty of people do it and do a good job too. This includes some of our team members. As well as our clients of course.

It isn’t impossible to represent yourself.

Neither does it have to be hard. It can be. Some cases can be tricky. Or the stakes are higher than some. Parental alienation. Leave to Remove. That sort of thing. That said…we help enough people to know that’s also more than possible.

It’s also a myth that people representing themselves do so as a `last chance saloon’ – that they can’t afford a solicitor or barrister so they have the tempting option of either doing it themselves or walking away from something they can’t walk away from. Many do so because they feel that no one knows their case like they do or cares as much and they’re right.

Learn how to represent yourself with our video guides

With this all in mind Michaela Wade will be posting a video each day – maybe a minute or so with the nuts and bolts on what to do, what not to do and how to do it when you are representing yourself.

She’s doing it from Facebook live from our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/familylawassistance. The first one starts on the 1st December – that’s this Sunday. Look forward to seeing you there!

Represent yourself with our help