Lawyers know the law but they can’t change your mindset

The endThe end

My client fell to her knees, wailing uncontrollably, “My baby! My baby!” she shrieked. I wanted to ruin and hide from the whole lot of it.

I won’t lie. As a family law specialist, it was one of the hardest moments I had to deal with.

We were in court and the judge had just read out the judgement. I was brought in as the `SOS call’. Yep – I was the last ditch help and very last minute aid. I was helping a mother who had lost her child to father in a custody case. (FYI: the term “custody” went out with Bon Jovi’s” Living on a Prayer“- sorry fans! But it’s still what the average person on the street calls it).

Battleground

Both Mum and Dad had been embroiled in a protracted court battle over whom their daughter was to live with.

Mum had battled with alcohol abuse because of her own issues in the past. She had come from a violent and alcoholic childhood herself. She had sought counselling but hadn’t really dealt with her issues. When she met her ex-partner she thought that he was her knight in shining armour. But it wasn’t long before those old demons came to haunt her and she felt like she couldn’t cope. In order to cope with her anxiety and depression she drank.  During the life of the court proceedings she had sought help with her issues surrounding alcohol but the courts did not find in her favour. Instead they ordered the status quo that the child lived with the Father and Mother had supervised contact leading to contact in the community.

This was not the way that she had ever thought parenthood would be. At that moment when the judge gave judgement in favour of Father she felt like her world fell apart. I knelt down to her and helped her up whilst quietly telling her that it would be OK.  She didn’t hear me through her loud sobs. I helped her to her feet and led her out of the court room and into a consultation room.

What happened next felt more like a wake.

Waiting for the order to be completedWritten in stone?

Father’s legal team were talking in hushed tones about the details of the order they were typing up.  I was integral in the drafting of that order. Mother was  in no fit state to take part in the intricate wording of the various paragraphs that made up a Section 8 Child Arrangements Order.  I fetched her a coffee and reassured her. She felt like she had lost her child.

A fresh start

Now you would think that’s how the story ends. But it isn’t. A few weeks later I was pleasantly surprised when she got in touch.  It was true that she was devastated with what the result from court. But having me there provided her with hope. I never once offered commiserations. I never once told her that it was the end. Even though she felt like the court had sealed her fate she had found something in that court room. Her voice.

You have more power than you think 

She didn’t have to rely on an expensive third party to relay what she wanted. With my help and focus she was able to speak confidently about her past; what she was doing about it and how she proposed her child’s best interests would be served. In that moment the process for her changed from a reactive to a proactive approach. She was now in the driving seat. She was the one taking the action.  Rather than wait from court hearing to court hearing she was able to contact support groups to help her come to terms with her childhood. She was breaking the cycle. She decorated her apartment and was ready to continue fighting to have a meaningful relationship with her child.

Reframe and refocusReframe. Reframe. Reframe.

The facts of the case hadn’t changed. But her mindset had. A small change…but the one that was needed. A change that changed everything in an instant.

She had chosen to put herself in the driving seat. She now felt empowered. She felt like she had choices and a plan. She needed someone by her side who knew the law and was on her side. She no longer wanted her solicitors. Together we started to put the groundwork in to get her to be a meaningful part of her daughter’s life.

No glory in court

It may sound boring but it’s true. That mother, like many others, want reassurance and a plan. They want to know how to deal with professionals and how to handle their court case. They want to feel like they have a voice and power in a seemingly powerless situation.

Oh! And our heroine?  It is 4 years on now and she has shared care of her child.

Caught without a lawyer or court without a lawyer?

All aboard the Hogwarts Express

I am sitting in the foyer at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

My client hasn’t arrived yet. It’s a busy day at court today already – there’s a hearing for a case that has made the national press and the paparazzi and TV people are flocking around the entrance. At one point on the way in I have a camera and microphone shoved in my face and I’m asked what role I am playing in the hearing today. Ha. Maybe they think I’m part of the large legal team or a witness for the case presided over by His/Her Honour Whoever who is sitting behind the big desk looking down at everyone.

Ally McBeal (or for the younger generation Rachel Zane) I’m not.

The building, I have to admit, is impressive. It is English gothic architecture at its best – clearly an inspiration for Hogwarts if you’re a Harry Potter fan. This is the place where the most senior of judges determine complex and international cases (like the one I’m not part of today). Legal history has been made here numerous times.

The judges that sit here wrote some of the legal books that I studied to become a paralegal. No pressure, Michaela.

Back in time

It is mad to think I’ve been supporting litigants in person in courts up and down the country for 12 years so far at this point. Where had that time gone? I let my mind wander over my career to date. I had been a debt collector, a fraud investigator and a benefits review officer.

Oh yes – it was me that made that call or sent that letter to ruin your day.

I had also worked in civil litigation for nearly 20 years. I had worked in a solicitor’s office repossessing cars and houses and preparing bundles. I was also a Master Practioner of NLP and hypnosis. Combined with my skills in the family law court it’s made me determined, sharp and caring. And kick ass when it came to negotiation. I knew how people ticked and how to reach agreement…or to persuade them when that was needed. I also had a whole toolkit on how to reduce someone’s anxiety, remove a phobia or reframe a situation for them.

I gazed up and admired the splendour of the portraits of long dead judges. They are the size of French windows. I wondered how long dead they were; what decisions had they made in their career?

My concentration was broken with a rushed and hasty “Hello! So sorry I’m late!”.

I look up and there he is. My client. He is a reasonably successful journalist. He is erudite, intelligent and articulate normally. Not today though. I have become used to the incoherent babbling that accompanies him whenever he is in court. He is dressed overly smart, if that’s a thing. He is also slightly mismatched. It’s clear that he doesn’t “do” suits very often. The tie is suspiciously 80s in its shine and the shirt still has the creases in it and tag in it from Marks & Sparks. He continues to waffle at some pace about his journey. Apparently getting a cab in the traffic from Liverpool Street to the Strand was a “nightmare”.

I smile warmly at him. I know he is nervous. I reassure him. This is our 3rd time here in Hogwarts. (That’s the nickname they have for this place over the road in Neros).  We seem to float past the fancy cloisters and beautifully tiled floor; past the intimidatingly large portraits of senior judges out into an uncovered courtyard.

What a lot of people don’t know is that most of the decisions aren’t made in the mahogany filled and antiquated courtrooms. They are made in the slightly lesser famous 70s building at the back. Not quite so glamorous now is it?

Into the breach

His case involved the mother of his 6-year old daughter stopping contact and wishing to move to Hong Kong on a permanent basis. They had shared care; she was the light of his life and was upset at the thought that his daughter wouldn’t be able to spend the usual, regular time with her Daddy and the paternal family that she was used to. He was unhappy with the thought of her being a 12-hour plane flight away.

If only I had met you sooner…

…is a refrain that I hear from many and what my client says to me.  I smile a knowing smile. If I had a pound for every time I heard that I would either be bloody rich or out of a job. And…spoiler alert I am neither.  By the time he met me had already spent over £20k in solicitors. It was his 3rd case for his daughter so far. His complaints about using solicitors were exhaustive. His complaints about them included:

  1. They didn’t do any “joined up thinking” or any real case management to achieve his goals.
  2. They didn’t reassure him and their customer service left much to be desired.
  3. They charged a lot for what they delivered.

He was worn out, worn down and on the brink of giving it all up and walking away. He had done things `the proper way’ because…well….you use a solicitor when you have a court case don’t you? A legal professional who is regulated, honourable and knew what they were doing.

Brush tarring

But for all the above – I have some exceptionally good friends who are both solicitors and barristers. We have passed each other work for years. They’ve passed me work. I’d happily recommend a dozen of them and would trust them with my own case if I weren’t permitted to represent myself. Some we’ve met through social events – some at court and they’ve turned my head because they’re proactive, helpful, constructive and/or do an amazing job at stuff like cross examination.

But I could not ignore my client’s protestations over using a solicitor.

If people can afford a solicitor they always get one (or do they?)

Over 2/3 of our clients don’t want one. I used to ask Steven `Why are they using us because they can clearly afford a solicitor?’ And then people would tell me and the answer would be simple – they didn’t want one.

My client had contacted me after Mother had suddenly stopped contact and his current tactic of sending a letters to Mother urging her to reconsider was ignored. The precedent had turned into the status quo and that was proving difficult to overturn.

Long story, short

I will skip to the end of the story. The hearing was a turning point.

Contact was re-established and my client was overjoyed. I had helped him negotiate with the barrister outside the Court room. We had successfully narrowed down the issues. The judge had agreed with my client’s argument on the things there wasn’t agreement on.

Of course, I was right beside him prompting and reminding him as to what to say. I was also the person kicking him under the table urging him to keep schtum when there was something being said he didn’t agree with. At one point the judge noticed that and had supressed a smirk.

And the prospect of his daughter being flown to the far end of Asia was averted.

What’s it all about?

Being a Family Law Assistant (or a McKenzie Friend as some call themselves) is a vastly different role from that of a solicitor and barrister. A good Family Law Assistant by your side is the perfect and empowering combination of legal knowledge, empathy, determination, and passion.

Family Law Assistance are the ONLY alternative to having a solicitor or barrister. Our job achieves the same function as those professions – but in many ways we’re chalk and cheese. We do different stuff – and as a result the people we help feel drastically different about the outcome whatever that is.

Ask yourself this: If you’ve been in court for a long period for an long and extended court case which means you believe you need a solicitor or barrister…what have you achieved with that belief? And how much has it cost you so far?

Want a chat? We’re on 0117 290 0274. Our initial phone/Zoom consultations are £50 (or `less than 12 minutes with your solicitor’ as it’s know on the billing sheet you’re paying each month).

How does the family court know its making the right decisions?

Data in the family court - unmined gold?Decisions in the family court?

The CAFCASS officer looked at me and  said `If I don’t see someone again I assume everything is fine’.

I’d just asked her how she knew her recommendations were in the best interests of the child.

When I responded `People give up too don’t they? How can you tell the difference?’ she didn’t answer.

Best interests of the child

What’s the definition of the above?

It’s a good and fair question to ask if you’re in the family court. What’s in the best interests of the child?

Uh uh uh….no clues.

My cynical and jaded definition of this is `Whatever you can convince the court that is’. Which means that if you ask that judge he or she may differ from the next one. It’s why you can be left feeling you’ve got a strong case one hearing and an awful one the next. It’s why you can go to one hearing and get a legal drubbing when you’ve got a strong case or feel it’s going your way when it’s perhaps more touch and go.

Despite the many jokes about legal professionals (`How can you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving’) they are only human. They have their own personal beliefs, biases, stories and their mood will be coloured by the car that cut them up on the way to work, the cat crapping on the carpet again and that nasty cold they’ve got. Despite the systems in place…they’re as fallible as you or me.

Gold - the data the family court could use would be invaluableBig decisions, little analysis

So how do legal professionals know they’re making a decision that is for the best?

In another life I worked as a performance analyst, business analyst and requirements engineer for big corporations that wanted to guarantee – as much as possible they’d make money, save money, not get sued, etc.

 

When I moved into family law I took a keen interest in stuff like the forms the courts used (badly designed, redundant questions), processes (antiquated – lots of time lost and work wasted because of poor design) and this – a  lack of analysis of results.

How can the court work out if they’re doing any good if they don’t collect the data much less analyse what happens as a result of their decisions?

How does it know if the order it makes works a year, 5 years, 10 years down the line? Are they safe? Aren’t dragged in front of CAFCASS officers, social workers, psychologists or anyone else repeatedly? If your order keeps getting broken? In short – they don’t.

Much.

I’ve a feeling the Ministry of Justice keep any of this sort of thing to themselves and if personal experience is anything to go by…I don’t blame them. I know they do some…but I’ve a feeling it isn’t enough.

But just imagine. The court knowing that if it orders X’ there is a 59% change of success, if it doesn’t order `Y’ 74% of kid will do `Z’. Now I get it…there are a lot of factors. And every course is different. But believe me…there are ways – if enough data is collected that patterns can be pieced together.

Imagine…an evidence based process to improve things.

How does this help you?

Well…it doesn’t. Much. But it teaches you a big fact here. If you go away, the court marks it as a success. Because if you weren’t happy with the outcome you’d be back in court wouldn’t you?

So if you’re tempted to walk away for any reason other than the best interests of your children…no one will notice, care and you may well be added to the `proof’ that the system works fine.

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.

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.

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.

Paperwork madness: What do I do about bundles and statements?

Represent myself? Won't there be too much paperwork?Court cases and mountains of paperwork…

…but is it all really necessary? Will it actually make any difference to your case?

It’s a great question. It’s possible that you can turn up at your next hearing with nothing at all, that the court will listen to you, take into account that you’re a litigant-in-person who doesn’t understand the bedroom reading that is Practice Direction 27A and make an order that you feel is fair and in the best interests of your child.

In the same way it’s likely that on the way to the hearing you won’t need the restraint of your seat belt because you’re not going to drive into the back of the car in front of you. We’re guessing that despite this you usually buckle up when you go for drive though.

Clunk click every trip.

Overkill? You decide.

It’s all about the judgement isn’t it? It’s a risk you decide is or isn’t acceptable. Some things are worth punting – some things aren’t.

Court paperwork can be like a seatbeltWhen you’re in the family courts it’s your how much money you’ll be left with when the dust settles from the divorce or separation. Or when your children will be able to see you. You know how important it is to you. When you ask us, we’ll tell you if we think it is worth putting together than trial bundle. That statement. Anything else.

We can be a cautious bunch here at Family Law Towers. We’re great at doing things on the fly. Which is useful when it comes to helping you in negotiations. When you’ve got the police knocking at your door. When you’ve been pole-axed by a piece of information at precisely the wrong moment.

But when that sort of stuff isn’t happening we like to prepare, organise and decide what an acceptable risk is. The decision is yours however and we’ll support you in whatever way you choose…

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.