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.

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.