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.

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.

A cloud on the horizon: What to do when you see it coming.

Out of the blue

We speak to a lot of people – not just our clients. A lot. Many of them appear to be in broad, sunlit uplands in terms of their relationships or marriages.

It’s understandable. Because admitting things aren’t good often comes with a sense of guilt, failure and shame. Furthermore there is (the not completely unfounded belief) that not everyone is interested. Douglas Adams used to say the best way to hide something was to hide it in a SEP (`Somebody Else’s Problem):

`An SEP is something we can’t see, or don’t see, or our brain doesn’t let us see, because we think that it’s somebody else’s problem. That’s what SEP means. Somebody Else’s Problem. The brain just edits it out, it’s like a blind spot’.

All this means people tend to keep quiet about things until it’s kind of unavoidable. Besides if you ignore it maybe it will go away won’t it?

Out in the open

And so many people do nothing until there is no alternative. Or until it can’t be disguised. Like when someone has moved into separate accommodation from a partner and/or their children. When financial hardship starts to part. Or when they cannot hold back the emotions.

If the above are familiar things are already a way down the path. And almost always it’s too late to stop it. Your choices are to continue to do nothing and wait for the dust to settle or to take an active role in guiding matters.

Out of control

`Has he called you yet?’ a concerned friend or relative will ask us.

`Not yet’ is often our response.

`I keep telling him’ we’ll be told.

`We can’t help someone unless they’re ready to take that step and get in touch’.

The capacity for someone to stick their head in the sand is shocking.

By the time they speak to us – they feel there are no options and we’ll help them get the ball rolling. Mostly. Some of them vanish again only to appear six months down the line with the same situation, albeit grown larger and unmanageable. Some of them do this a number of times, each time with progressively worse news.

Out of the frying pan…?

And despite possibly hearing truths they don’t want to hear it can be assuring – that we can offer something they’ve been looking ever since things went south: The certainty that the situation can be managed. That there are others who know how it feels. That there can be a new start when all this is old history.

`I’m going to be able to sleep for the first time in six months’ we’ll hear.

But for the moment…you’re out there aren’t you? And you’ll stay there until your ready. You’re possibly alone. Reading this in an empty house at 3am wondering when you’re going to see your kids next. Or whether you’ll be living in the home in a week, month or year. Listening to Radio 4 change into the World Service via the tones of Sailing By.

You’ll walk around in a daze watching the happy families and wondering how the world can go on so utterly indifferent to the calamity you feel in your heart. You may laugh inappropriately. Cry without warning. Talk about stuff to people who have no business knowing it. And more.

We get it. It’s hard. The first step is always the hardest. But without you nothing happens. Making the first step is more powerful than you’d ever believe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s you.

It starts and stops here.

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

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

The missing 50%

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

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

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

You’re at the centre

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

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

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

See you there – don’t miss out!

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

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!