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!

A good McKenzie Friend will have more ideas than just `Go to court'.

Questions to ask yourself before using a McKenzie Friend.

It won’t be a surprise to many reading this post that we recommend a Family Law Assistance McKenzie Friend to help you with your legal situation. Our work takes us up and down the country with people seeking our help in child contact disputes, big money finance disputes, dog custody battles and even once to visit a mortuary as part of a dispute in a will.

That last one in case you’re interested it didn’t happen – but our top McKenzie Friend Michaela Wade was game.

It's not all about the money money money when deciding whether to us a McKenzie FriendThe wrong first question is how much do you charge?

Our fees are considerably less than the alternative but we’d urge anyone who is using a McKenzie Friend solely or firstly with this question in mind to seriously consider if we’re the right people to help you. We’ll give you an estimate of what we charge for a hearing, for a piece of work, etc. but we aren’t fortune tellers – we can’t and won’t guarantee what will happen in your situation. We’ll tell you what we think is likely but there are no certainties.

If anyone does guarantee you anything in a case…run a mile from them.

Jerry Maguire was a McKenzie Friend: Help me, help you.

To be honest this applies to a McKenzie Friend, solicitor, or barrister. They can do a lot. But not everything. They can’t stop you sending that ill-advised email. Or not mention the criminal conviction that will be a big part of the case or the 17 Social Services interventions to us.

We’ve seen many a £400 pound an hour solicitor sit with their heads trying not to explode with frustration that all the work they have done (and all the money they’ve been paid – honestly!) is wasted because their own client is causing more problems than the opposition.

If this is you…go it alone. Seriously. Save your money.

A good McKenzie Friend will have more ideas than just `Go to court'.

Should you go to court?

Court should always be the last resort. Anyone who chooses to go to court when there is another option risks being painted as vexatious and/or ending up on the wrong end of a 91/14 barring order. And if you ask our advice we’ll consider this and tell you when it’s not a good idea and alternative potential solutions. It’ll save you a lot of time and money – for the sake of a half hour meeting with us we’ll be honest with you if a court case is likely to be the best way to achieve the result you seek.

Is a McKenzie Friend right for you?

Nine times out of ten we’d say `Yes’. Mostly because no one knows your case like you and likewise no one is motivated as much either.

If you’re one of ten we’ll tell you – recommending great solicitors and barristers we’ve worked with in the past and think will be a positive influence on your situation.

In our experience people are able to represent themselves, get a great result and best of all get a great night’s sleep for the first time too long because they now feel in charge of their own destiny.

The Jerry Springer-style wrap up…

It’s down to you. We can help but what you are responsible for your words and actions if you use us, a solicitor, a barrister or go alone. You’ll also be the one who lives with the consequences often for years afterwards. Think about what your goals are, think carefully about what will best help you achieve them and stick to the plan.

FindingofFact areyouthemonsteryouarepaintedtobe?

A litigant in person’s guide to a Finding of Fact (part 1)

Finding of Fact - a chance to deal with allegationsA Finding of Fact is the chance to deal with allegations you face

It’s a reasonable question we’re asked on a regular basis:

When do I get to tell my side of the story?

It’s not just a reasonable question either. It’s a normal response too! But as a litigant in person you need to understand the rules the court works to – which differ massively from the real world.

When I say `rules’ I don’t mean Practice Direction, CPR or the Children Act itself either.

What I mean is the fundamental way the court works. Attend a hearing and the judge/magistrates/someone else will hear from you and decide what to do. In child contact cases, etc. allegations are very, very common (I can count on one hand the cases I have helped out with out of the many hundreds where there haven’t been any).

The court will have seen thousands. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. And it doesn’t have the time to investigate every single allegation made in every case. Seriously.

So when you attend a hearing and are accused of something the court has a few different options:

  1. Ignore them entirely.
  2. Ask you about them.
  3. Call a Finding of Fact.

Finding of Fact - are you the monster you are painted to be?In my experience options 1 and 2 by far the most common. If it’s number 1 you may well be left feeling short changed – you’ve had no chance to call your accuser out. But remember…in a child contact case the hearing isn’t about that. It’s about `the best interests of the child’. From your point of view it is by far the best option however. Which it means in effect is this:

  • The court has decided the accusations are stupid/false/irrelevant and not even worth responding to.

A `win’ surely?

Which incidentally should by and large be your response. Remember the mantra? `I refute all allegations‘.

Of course, if option 2 comes up you get the chance to say your piece.

So what happens at a Finding of Fact hearing?

If it’s option 3 and a Finding of Fact is called, that’ll be when you get a chance to respond. With the advent of the amendment of Practice Direction 12J it looks like Finding of Facts are becoming more common. How common remains to be seen but it depends on the allegation and view of the court before.

We’ll be covering the nuts and bolts of the actual hearing itself very soon…

Litigant in person. Court coffee isn't great.

4 more things that will never happen in court

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

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

So without further ado here are…

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Everything goes to plan.

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

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

 

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

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

 

Litigant in person: Focus is your greatest tool.

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

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

I can’t represent myself? Yes you can!

Represent myself? I can’t do that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go.

Represent myself in court. 3 Top Tips

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

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