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!

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.

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!

A rose by any other name...as a litigant in person make sure you know what your statement is for,

Litigant in Person FAQ – putting together a position statement

As a litigant in person there is a lot to learn. Those choosing to represent themselves tend to do for 2 reasons – they either don’t trust anyone else to represent them in court or they are unprepared to pay the fees of a legal professional. Or both.

Either way, if you are a litigant in person you need to ensure that you learn quickly. Representing yourself and facing a solicitor representing the other party isn’t a level playing field and you need to do what you can to address this.

Of course, we’d suggest you use a McKenzie Friend

We also strongly suggest you put together a position statement, especially for non substantive hearings (i.e. the ones that tend to last more than an hour or two – Finding of Fact hearings, Final Hearings, etc.).

Litigant in Person 101 – Why a `Position Statement’?

A rose by any other name...as a litigant in person make sure you know what your statement is for,Firstly, don’t get hung up on what it is called. They are normally called a position statement but we’ve heard them described in various ways over the years. A rose by any other name and all that – it is what it does rather than what is is that is important.

The clue is in the title however.

It is a statement detailing your position. How you see things. It contains in a nutshell everything you would like the court to know. Nothing more. If you were to walk into a hearing and not say a word your position statement should be able to do the talking for you. Which is particularly useful as many litigants in person feel they do not get an opportunity to express their views.

However the court’s attitude to your position statement can be unpredictable

The reception your position statement will receive can vary dramatically. The response you can receive can range from being thanked by the court for providing it and making it clear how you see things all the way to it being handed back to you and being told you didn’t have the leave of the court, not to do it again and an order that says the same.

We tend to find they are received positively rather than negatively, but like many things in court there are no guarantees here.

On balance however we’d suggest they may be a good thing particularly if you insist on attending court alone (which as we repeatedly say is usually a very bad idea).

Litigant in Person 102 – How to write a position statement

Golden rules:

  1. Firstly, no more than 2 pages. Ever. Unless you seriously, seriously believe it merits it (and believe us – everyone does believe this). We’ve managed to help boil 15-page statements down to 2 without difficulty.
  2. Make sure the case number is on the top, as well as the names of the parties involved and which court your case is being heard at.
  3. Number your paragraphs.
  4. Do not use legalese. Using words like `pursuant’, `hereafter’ and `forthwith’ will at best confuse the issue and at worst leave everyone who reads it thinking you sound like Rumpole of the Bailey.
  5. Three sections. Background. Concerns. Order sought. The first section is a brief history. Dates. The second is why you are in court – what the problems are. The third and final section is what you would like the court to do about it – what order you would like it to make. On this last point it needs to be stuff that the court can actually order – things like making your ex behave like a `reasonable human being’ or forcing them to go to mediation can’t and won’t be ordered. If it’s contact be precise. `Some contact’ won’t cut it – `Contact on every other weekend, collection from school on Fridays and return there the following Monday’ will. Be unambiguous.
  6. Write everything with the best interests of the child and the Welfare Checklist in mind. Nothing more.
  7. Do not write anything but fact. Opinion doesn’t count. Write facts only and you give other parties less to dispute.

Litigant in Person 103 – What to do with the Position Statement

Make multiple copies. More than you think you’ll need is always helpful. You’ll need one. As will the other party. The CAFCASS officer or Social Worker would benefit from a copy too. The court will need to see it too – 1 for a judge, 3 for magistrates. For good measure take a couple of spares. That makes 8 at least.

As a litigant in person you will prepare your own documentsPhotocopying is often possible in court, but is also often expensive. £15 for the first sheet isn’t unheard of. Do not collect copies on the way to court either. We’ve lost count of the number of people who have turned up late because they have swung by the print shop on the way to the hearing.

You’ll be stressed enough on the day so get this out of the way the night before.

When you arrive at court (an hour before the hearing of course) find an usher. Ask them if they’ll pass it to the court. Find the other party’s solicitor and hand them a copy too. The same applies to the CAFCASS Officer or Social Worker if you can find them.

Litigant in Person 104 – What happens next?

In an ideal world the position statement will be seen by the court before you walk in. How you see things before you say a word should be clear to everyone involved.

You may be asked to clarify the things your statement says which is why it is important to be unambiguous as much as possible because doing so will only ensure your view is stronger than it would be otherwise.

Finally – anyone who assists you in putting together a position statement or other paperwork should be prepared to attend the hearing with you. Position statements can be very useful. But as we’ve said before, things can and do change dramatically at hearings; don’t get left high and dry by someone who puts it together with you but isn’t on hand when you are being asked all about it.

A McKenzie Friend is just a link in the chain

Don’t waste your money on a McKenzie Friend

It can be pointless using a McKenzie Friend

What’s the point of a McKenzie Friend? I know what you’re thinking here. I’m doing the old `Tell them to do the opposite of what you actually want them to do’ shtick aren’t I?

But think about it. There are plenty of good reasons why you shouldn’t get in touch with us. Or any other McKenzie Friend. Or a solicitor but that’s explained below.

We come in all shapes and sizes. Some of us are jacks-of-all-trades. There are those who specialise in certain areas. Some are legally qualified. Some aren’t. Others are stunningly charismatic, charming and intelligent like yours truly along with the other intellectual giants who are part of Family Law Assistance. Or not.

You get the picture.

But regardless of who you choose to assist you (if at all) there’s one constant in your court case.

A McKenzie Friend doesn’t run your case. You do.

Actually…that’s also true if you are paying a solicitor in excess of £250 an hour . It’s your case. Your kids, money and life. You get to live with whatever decision the man or lady behind the big desk makes. We will become ancient history very quickly while you deal with it year in, year out.

Of course this means you are free to take whatever advice you like…or ignore it at any point. But ask yourself this: If you’re paying for advice and doing nothing with it, it may be worth you saving your money.

Any McKenzie Friend who assists you is only one member of the team,  only part of the chain.

A McKenzie Friend is just a link in the chainAnd as the old proverb goes – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Make sure it isn’t you.

If it is legal qualifications, experience, leg work or anything else will make no difference to your case.

So with no further ado here are…

4 ways to waste money on a McKenzie Friend

Make sure you are unavailable for as much time as possible. Vanish at crucial points during your case. Send an urgent message to your McKenzie Friend and do the communication equivalent of being the victim of an alien abduction being taken to the Andromeda galaxy. If you have a court deadline submit a document in 4 weeks, vanish until 11pm the night before and then ask for urgent assistance before 8am the next day to impress on us the urgency of the situation.

Listen to advice and then ignore it. OK…you’ve got us. We can offer advice and you can ignore it. The same is true if we were a big money solicitor who is charging you several times what we currently. Of course Practice Guidance clearly states we are to offer assistance only. But ask yourself this: `If I disagree with so much of the advice I am given would I be better off not paying a McKenzie Friend at all?’

We’re not precious nor offended if you ignore what we say. It’s your case but we would agree with anyone who arrives at this conclusion.

And another two!

Don’t be honest with your McKenzie Friend. Don’t tell them anything that portrays you in a bad light, even if it has the potential of changing the trajectory of your case. Omit to mention convictions of any kind. Remain silent about allegations you have faced. Ignore looming criminal case. What are the chances that the other party that has been hostile enough towards you to make a court case a sad inevitability will bring it up in court to delay or prevent progress?

Inconceivable!

It doesn’t matter that a little foreknowledge could have potentially avoided these issues.

Choose your McKenzie Friend and then argue about their fees at every opportunity. There are an ever-increasing number of McKenzie Friend out there. Some of them are free. Some of them work for expenses only. Some of them charge varying rates.

You can use anyone you like.

Don’t worry about that though. Choose who you need to help you and then query everything. Even if you are clear about what is being charged and you are in a position to tell the McKenzie Friend in front of you to take a hike before a penny has changed hands.

Your McKenzie Friend wants you to do well

Most McKenzie Friends including us want a great result for you. Many of us began their work as a result of personal experience. We want to help others in the same situation. To ensure you avoid the pitfalls, delays and heartache that comes with being involved in a court case.

Besides, many of us have professional pride and it doesn’t look good if everyone we help ends up with a terrible result does it?

As always…focus. Be clear about what you want. And if you use a McKenzie Friend either listen to them or fire them and save your money.

4 more myths about the Family Courts

Myths. In our experience people tend to believe a lot of things that aren’t true, don’t help them and costs them time and money. It’s all part of the warp and weft of being a litigant in person.

Myths may be great stories but they won't help you in courtOf course, if you have a solicitor you should avoid these problems. As they know the law (hopefully) they will tell you what is possible, what isn’t and how what you want fits in with how the law and the way the actual day to day stuff works.

As a litigant in person you don’t have this luxury however.

If you’re not using one of our stunningly talented, good looking and charismatic team members it’s down to you to read, learn and understand. The law isn’t written for you to understand. It’s written for our learn’d friends with legal qualifications, apprenticeships and time spent as a trainee.

There are many, many things to misunderstand in the legal system. Lots apparently small and insignificant stuff that can change the entire complexion and trajectory of what happens.

Another 4 myths  worth remembering…

No. 1 – Changing the names of children by deed poll doesn’t count for much.

Sorry. If you’ve spent a few hundred on one for your child in the hope you can change your mind…you’ve been done. At this point I’ll usually be told (by someone who has wasted their money on a deed poll that they aren’t a waste of paper, ink and gold lettering). It’s worth remembering surnames are considered by the court to be more important than the first name however.

Think about it for a moment. The Children Act says:

(1)Where a [child arrangements order to which subsection (4) applies] is in force with respect to a child, no person may—

(a)cause the child to be known by a new surname;

…because a piece of paper that hasn’t been issued by the court doesn’t count.

And neither does any number of schools, doctors, dentists or whoever that will happily accept it – they don’t know the law. Simple as that.

If you have a deed poll for your kid is it of any use at all?

Partially. So you already have a deedpoll with the name of your choice. When it comes to getting a passport with this name you’ll need to send the deedpoll and a letter from everyone else who has PR saying they agree with this to the Passport Agency and it’ll all be good.

If you want to a change a name otherwise you’ll need either the agreement of everyone else with PR or a court order (a C100 for a Specific Issues Order).

There’s no other way round it.

No. 2 – Money and contact are linked.

One of the myths is that money and contact are linkedOh no they’re not! Kids are not pay per view. We’ve heard people linking money and contact repeatedly but that’s a sure fire way of making yourself look…bad `You can see the kids when you pay me!’ isn’t exactly a child-focused thing to say.

Contact is either in the best interests of the child or it isn’t. Contributing towards the financial support of a child is (somewhat unsurprisingly) always seen as a good thing. Which is why a primary carer who refuses to accept money from the other parent, refuses to hand bank account details, etc. isn’t acting in the best interests.

It’s the whole reason there agencies to handle maintenance to replace the court hearings that used to deal with it.

Of course, it doesn’t stop people doing all of the above or shouting about it in court.

It’s a scenario many people are familiar with – blackening the character of the other party in court. It is argued that a parent who doesn’t contribute or refuses to accept cash from the other parent is just showing another way they’re not thinking of the children.

It’s not unheard of by a court to be interested in this and to sometimes draw inferences, but to be blunt…they shouldn’t.

No 3 – It can all be sorted out in the first hearing.

OK, you got me. It can be. It is entirely possible to get to a hearing and for an agreement to be made that resolves the entire issue, the court agreeing that this can happen.

But I am guessing it is unlikely to happen.

What is more typical is that a primary carer will stick to their guns and offer no contact at all or at most in a contact centre. If there is no agreement the court will most likely say it cannot make an order without this – it can…but it won’t and you aren’t going to convince them.

So manage your expectations, do your homework and work on everything you can to make sure you are fully prepared for things further down the line.

No.4 – It’s a good thing if your ex doesn’t have a solicitor.

…or if you can get his/her solicitor removed if they are funded by Legal Aid.

In most cases we’d say `No it isn’t’.

Because while it is undoubtedly true that your ex’s solicitor represents their position it is also a fact that he/she really, really doesn’t want to say to a judge something like `Yes – my client is denying contact, has no child-focused reason to do so and is doing it merely to punish their ex partner‘ – defending the indefensible is never much fun. A good solicitor will advise their client when they are doing something that isn’t going to help their case and often lean on them to be more reasonable (OK…appear to be more reasonable). Pay close attention while you are in court and you may sometimes hear a barrister or solicitor being very pointed with a client suggesting in the nicest possible way that they’re about to be torn off a strip in court. Sometimes there is…shouting. I’ve heard it.

Now imagine your ex, alone.

He/she will agree to nothing. Will make allegations at random intervals…which will hold up any progression while they are dealt with. Will slow things down by producing irrelevant and confusing information.

In short, stuff you’d never hear about if your ex had assistance. I’m not saying your ex’s solicitor is your best friend – it’s fairer to consider them a double edged sword where you are concerned. Your first question should be `Would my ex having a solicitor cause me more help than harm?’ Sometimes the question is harder to answer than you think.

Myths can damage your case

A final piece of advice is this: Don’t go alone.

Use a McKenzie Friend. Or a solicitor. Either way…learn. Because no one cares about your case as much as you do. You get to live with the consquences of your actions – no one else does.

Don'truinyourowncase

4 more ways to ruin your own case.

You’ll ruin your own case in a way your ex could.

Don't ruin your own case1You’re going to ruin it. With friends like these, who needs enemies? Except this enemy is you. You’re going to shoot yourself in the foot, spike your own guns and hand your ex as much ammunition as he/she needs to be able to prove without a shadow of a doubt what a terrible person you are.

You can’t control what your ex is going to say and do but you sure as hell are going to take control of what you say to do.

And it’s going to be like watching a slow motion car crash.

You’re going to get aggressive with anyone who doesn’t agree with you. You’ll tell them they don’t understand. That they are weak for not being as angry as you. And that you’d do anything for your kids.

Apart from winding your neck in, presumably. That’s one thing you can’t do.

Here’s another 4 great ways you will end up as an object lesson to others

  1. Fight everyone involved in your case. The judge. The ex’s legal representative. The CAFCASS officers. The social worker. Your kid’s doctor and school. Make sure that everyone whose opinion may hold weight in a court case know exactly just how angry, aggressive you are and keen to make sure they all know about your rights. You get bonus points if you get yourself arrested by the police by getting stroppy in the wrong place and wrong time (a breach of the peaceis always a favourite). I mean…the ex says you are an angry and aggressive person so by doing this you’re definitely not proving them right are you? And he or she will have the police report to back it up.
  2. Fools ruin their own casesDon’t bother with stupid paperwork and evidence. Pfft! The court doesn’t need to see that killer piece of evidence to clearly back up your assertions does it? You don’t need to know where each document is that you may need during a hearing. A 10p Tesco carrier bag will be fine. Scribbling words like `Lies!’ or `****!’ on original documents are good too.
  3. Act now and don’t worry about the consequences. You may have to live with whatever happens for the next 15 years but if the ex has done or said something that really riles you make sure you file off an angry email or text message as quickly as you can furiously hammer it out. This’ll further help show what an angry person you are. The star prize will probably be a stint on the witness stand answering questions that make you look like a fool no matter what you say. Your McKenzie Friend will not have their head in their hands but they will be hoping the ground opens up swallowing them, the court but most of all…you.
  4. Go entirely alone. A litigant in person should go alone. Because you are able to listen, talk, think and take notes whilst in a sometimes highly stressful and fast moving area you have little experience of. You don’t need no stinkin‘ solicitor or McKenzie Friend. What are you…chicken?

You have more power than you realise. Don’t ruin it.

Even if you are a non resident parent who feels like they are marching to the ex’s tune. You ex has no power over you at all unless you let them. Consider your ex a liar? Prove them wrong by being reasonable in the face of provocation. Document where needed. Think ahead. Take advice.

It’s down to you.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Because it ain’t. Plenty of us have been there. We know exactly how it feels. But at the end of the day you have no control of anything other than yourself.

Your call, guys.

Why CAFCASS make court orders

CAFCASS make the court orders. Or if you are involved in with Social Services, them. Even the ex’s solicitors can tell you what is going to happen in a court case. And you have no choice do you? They’ll do the reports, provide the recommendations or tell you that if you don’t do what they say you’ll find your child removed or your time with them restricted.

It’s a scary thought isn’t it? And you sure as hell better play ball. Right?

Let me let you into a little secret…

Only the court can make court orders

The clue is in the name.

No one other than the nice man or lady (or men and ladies) can tell you what to do. They’re the ones who have the power to make a court order you don’t want, don’t like and don’t agree with. If you don’t agree to something, say so. And make it clear.

Court orders - do as you are told?Should you agree to something – no matter how much you really don’t want to and no matter how much you feel you are being pressured into something…you have agreed to it. Agreement is agreement is agreement. It won’t wash that you were pushed into it.

Because the response you’ll likely get is `But you did agree to it didn’t you? And you would have sought legal advice on it before you did so surely?’

Now don’t get me wrong. I get it. You are faced with a social worker who tells you your kids will be taken away and you won’t be allowed to see them if you don’t agree to a Section 20. Or CAFCASS will tell you that their recommendations are effectively set in stone and there is nothing you can do about it. Or even the ex’s solicitor telling you that if you don’t agree to your application being dropped you will end up paying their costs and you’ll be seeing the kid’s in a contact centre until hell freezes over.

Not even your friendly neighbourhood McKenzie Friend

The court order is all that counts

DogFurthermore you don’t have to convince anyone else. No one at all. Just the court. Because they make the orders. Because if it ain’t on the court, it doesn’t count.

Ever heard ‘POIDH’? `Picture or it didn’t happen’? Same thing.

But having read of this…am I telling you to ignore CAFCASS? Social Services? The ex’s solicitor.

No.

I know, I know. I am contradicting myself again. Here he goes…telling me to ignore the lot of them and no he’s saying the opposite. But in terms of making court orders – they don’t make them.

Listen to people. Consider what they’re saying. They may be right. They be wrong. They may even be trying to help you (it doesn’t happen you know…I’ve met people in all parts of the Family Law system who are genuinely nice people who don’t like some parts of their job). While you’re being nice to them (we covered that earlier didn’t we kids?) understand they have an opinion just like you…and it may not be right.

Your job is to convince the court

As it says above. Your job is to convince the court. But it’s also to listen and respond as needed to everyone else who is involved. And to weigh up all aspects of your case.

But don’t assume that because someone in an apparent position of authority tells you something will happen that it will happen.

It ain’t over until the court order is made.

LiP Commandments (Part 2)

Welcome back to our new sermon, erm, blog post. To err is human, but to forgive is divine – and few people will blame you for making mistakes as you make your way through the vale of tears, the path of many faced with the family court. As promised we’d like to give you another 5 commandments – things to do and things not to do that’ll make a big difference to your case.

No one is perfect and chances are that we have all done a few things we wished we hadn’t or not done things we wish we had.

Here commenceth the lesson.

More LiP Commandments

6.) Thou Shall Care for Thine Documents

It always puzzles us why people how people treat the pieces of paper that can make a difference between an outcome in court they will live with and one they would positively hate. We’ve seen original documents written over (swear words and insults are always a `favourite’ of ours which means you are going to have to spend a lot of time with a copy and a bottle of Tippex removing comments that the court and the other side will find very interesting and useful.

Or else the documents are `filed’ in a bag that has the name of a supermarket in it and was formerly used to store a back of King Edward potatoes.

Don’t do it. Don’t write over documents. Put them in a ring binder in an orderly manner. It’ll mean they are nice and clean. You’ll also know where each one is when you need to refer to it.

7.) Thou Shalt Hope for the Best and Plan for the Worst

Be positive. You’ll do better in your case and feel better. It’s a tough and challenging situation you are in. It’s hard to stay positive true. But look after yourself and work on the principle that one day, none of this will matter.

Speak to many of the `old hands’ who have been through what you have several years (or decades) before and you’ll see that one day all this will be old new and you likely won’t care. Because life will be OK.

But don’t assume this means you should wait for things to get better on their own.

Work on the principle that documents will get lost. That no one else cares. That you are the only one who will meet that deadline.

In practical terms that means doing things like taking spare copies of statements to court if you have previously filed them as ordered. Or finding out the name, address, opening hours and requirements of that contact centre you may be stuck in for a while – so the court is in a better position to make an order there and then.

8.) Thou Shalt Not be Seen to Get Angry or Upset

You may well have good cause to be angry or upset. No one will actually blame you for this…but as sure as eggs is eggs it will be used against you if you put it on display. Doing so will mean contact is delayed. You’ll end up in a contact centre. You’ll end up on an anger management course. You’ll end up facing a Finding of Fact hearing or a Non Molestation Order.

If you need support, get it. Contact a support organisation of charity of your choice – where you can let off steam and learn to deal with the injustice you feel.

Don’t do it in court or anywhere else you will prejudice your case.

9.) Though Shalt Be Nice to Everyone Thy Meet

Everyone. The CAFCASS Officer. The court office staff. The security guards. The ushers (the ones in the black robes you’ll see in court). The judge, magistrates or legal advisors. Even the ex’s solicitor.

Monk - Ten CommandmentsYes. It may be hard. But you get more flies with honey than vinegar. And despite what you may think they are human beings – meaning they are more likely to be well disposed to you if you are pleasant. They are also less likely to believe you are the awful person your ex may be trying to paint you as if you are Mr or Ms Cool, Calm and Collected. As opposed to shouting swear words in the waiting room because you are angry the ex has said you shout swear words at people when you are angry.

In addition to all this, you are less likely to become unfocused.

10.) Thou Shalt Not Give Up; Thou Shalt Play the Long Game

There are very few situations where you have no legal options when it comes to your kids (yes…there are some – we know).

Don’t expect it to be plain sailing. You will come out of hearings wondering what the hell happened and that giving up may be the best thing for your sanity, your children and your finances. It is inevitable you will things are moving too slowly (or not at all). But you are there to secure an outcome in the long term – not within the next couple of weeks.

You may say you have no chance whatsoever. The best way to ensure you that happens is to walk away. No one can make you do that other than you however.

TL:DR – Commandments in Short

Expect it to be hard. Expect it to feel unfair. Be nice. Be prepared. Stay Calm. These commandments are really just common sense. It can be hard to follow them all when you feel attacked at every angle and it involves your kids. But it is possible to get an outcome you can live with.

That’s it.

LiP Commandments (Part 1)

We are all but imperfect human beings. We all do things with the best of motives and upon searching our souls know the best and right thing to do even while we go off and do something entirely different, making achieving our goals and reaching the happiness we crave so much more difficult. Following a few simple commandments will make your life a lot easier.

Here at Family Law Assistance we’ve seen and heard a lot. We’ve seen a wide range of tactics used (and justified) – and we’ve seen the outcome for good and bad. We also see things more clearly very often, our clients paying us to provide a more clinical view of a case than they are able to. Because at the end of the day they’re your kids and not ours – it is hard to be impartial when it comes to your own children.

So it’s fair to say we have a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

It’s common for people to say `I bet you’ve not anyone as bad as my ex’ or `I bet this is the worst case you have ever seen’. You’d be surprised – we won’t discuss details (a two year custodial sentence for contempt of court often offends) – but it is fair to say we’ve seen some challenging situations.

There is often a pattern however – certain immutable rules that are a sure fire way to help or hinder your case. If we were gamblers we’d have a fair guess when it comes to what will and won’t work in a court case.

So with no further ado…

LiP Commandments

1.) Thou Shalt Not Slag Thine Ex off on Social Media

Church - Ten Commandments?No excuses. Ever. Because there are none that will be accepted by a court in mitigation if you are asked to justify why you describe your ex as a ****', a `****’ or even a `****’. You won’t be thanked your honest or your insight even if you are demonstrably correct. Instead you are likely to be painted as someone who is more interested in sticking it to your ex than you are producing a child-focused solution.

Better still? Don’t mention the ex at all. Or your case. You don’t have to convince us, remember. Just the court…

Pro-tip: Slagging the ex off or what he/she is doing whilst not naming them won’t cut it.

2.) Though Shalt Remain Whiter than White at All times

Many people feel they are lied about during court hearings. Why give the other party the opportunity to say unpleasant and true things about you – even better for them if they can prove it?

Again…the court won’t be persuaded by the argument `Yes – I know I did that but he/she is just as bad or worse!’ Or anything else for that matter.

No matter unfair it may seem or indeed be.

3.) Thou Shalt Keep Thine Eye Upon The Ball

What are you going to court for? Proving the ex wrong? Having your say? Getting things on record? Or for ensuring your kids have a relationship with you?

The court will only take any notice of the last one of these. If your motivation for making an application is anything else…save yourself the cost, time, effort and heartache and don’t bother. Seriously. Go on a nice holiday or something instead.

And don’t waste your time trying to get the court to do stuff it doesn’t have the power to order – like communicating with you.

If you do go to court make sure your original motivation for going there stays the same throughout. Don’t get distracted by false allegations – refute them. Don’t get into arguments over anything other than your kids’ best interests. If the other side can change the subject and get you riled…they will. Be wise to it.

4.) Thou Shalt Not Take the whole Family Law System Head on

Maybe you’re a tough guy who never gives up. Show me the man/woman who will tell you `At least I had the guts to tell that judge and everyone else like it is’ and I will show you someone with no contact and non molestation and barring orders against him/her.

That’s because the court is geared to dealing with angry, aggressive and unreasonable people who will shout the odds and get aggressive when they don’t get their way. Do that and you’ll be chewed up, spat out and forgotten by the time you’re out of the court room door.

5.) Thou Shalt Listen to Those with Some Knowledge

So you’re in a difficult situation. It probably feels quite unique. It ain’t. No matter how hard it is I can guarantee you someone has gone through it years before you…and there will be others who will do some in the future too. Amongst them will be the ones who have done well and others who haven’t. Learn from the mistakes of those who have come before and listen to those who have hung around to help others. If you use a solicitor, the same applies – after all, at £260 an hour it’s quite reasonable to assume they will help in some capacity.

The same goes if you use your friendly local McKenzie Friend – namely, us. We’re pretty good at advising you if your chosen course of action is good or bad. We won’t hesitate to tell you if you’re shooting yourself in the foot. After all a good friend tells you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear.

So that’s it. There will be another 5 of these handy commandments coming up as time progresses. But it ain’t rocket science guys. We’re on your side and if you choose to let us help you we’ve got your back. And like the original commandments it’s fair to say these are set in stone.

You’re not alone. Contact us to find out how we can help.

Here endeth the lesson.