When you need a `bulldog’ by your side

Bulldog of a lawyer?Fight fight fight!

`My solicitor is really scary! He’s nice to me but he scares the hell out of the other side in court! He costs me £275 hour but he’s worth it!’

That’s what he said to me. He loved his solicitor, the man I was speaking to. His solicitor was sharp, aggressive and terrified his ex. And her solicitor too. Pretty impressive stuff. Barely concealed legal threats about no contact, hostile cross examination by a barrister, crippling legal costs and much, much more.

Barks and bites 1

I wasn’t surprised. I’ve met solicitors and barristers like that. They’re actually quite rare though. Most of them are nice enough people (seriously – I’m not `going native’ here) – although I get it can be hard to see it that way when they’re relaying your ex’s words and you seriously don’t like what they’re saying. Most of the best legal professionals are the people you’ll have a chat with and try to make the best of the situation in front of them (you wouldn’t be in court in the first place if it were all sunshine and roses in any case would you?)

But yeah…I’ve met the other sort too. The fixed scowl, the use of language that can seem intimidating and misleading, etc.

You get more flies with honey than vinegarHoney and vinegar

I always joke that the really dangerous’ legal professionals are the ones who charm and leave people walking away thinking `Did I really just agree to that?’ and the inkling that maybe they shouldn’t have done. The old saying `You catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ comes to mind: You’re more likely to achieve your goals with soft words and niceness than kicking in the door of the consultation room and telling the opposite party they’re legally doomed.

`What did the court order in your hearing?’

I asked the father whose solicitor sounded like Conan the Barbarian’s more aggressive big brother. I was picturing him a furry hat, loincloth and carrying a large unwieldy sword. Not a particularly pleasant image from my perspective. Not so soon after breakfast.

The dad in question looked at me like I was an idiot. It was clearly a silly question. His solicitor’s aggression was clearly a good thing. And then he answered.

`Oh. The court wouldn’t allow contact. It’s been 6 months now but my solicitor says it will definitely happen at some point!

Checking Facebook and other things more important than your child contact case

Child contact or Facebook?Finding that lost dog in Arizona or contact with your children?

Contact with your children is the most important thing in the world to you. Not seeing them has caused you to fall into depression. Put you into debt. Ruined friends and relationships. Generally turned your world upside down.

And yet when it comes to doing something about it you do stuff that isn’t going to help. This includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Going on holiday during a crucial part of your case.
  • Deciding to print your documents the morning of the hearing.
  • Not asking the boss for some time off to do stuff that needs doing because he may say no.
  • Turning up late.
  • Not looking after crucial documents .

Rabbit in the headlights?

Every action has a reason behind it. When people do this sort of thing it’s usually because they don’t want to go to the damn hearing or deal with the horrible paperwork. We don’t blame them for that. It’s a normal (and sane!) reaction when faced with something unpleasant. (It’s different for us. It’s our job and we stay neutral when you’re feeling under pressure).

But how would it be if dealing with these horrible jobs made you gain the feeling that you’ve seized control of the situation? That you’ve ticked something else off the list of things that need to happen to achieve your goals.

And this is something you can do that will help your situation with zero legal knowledge, help from people like us or anything like that. It’s free.

Things to do instead of working on your case?Catch-22

The above is easy to say but can be more challenging to do. But it is possible. Because it’s a mindset thing. And you’re in charge of your mind. Whether it is deciding to give the ex’s solicitor both barrels, telling the judge like it is or choosing to be happy when others wouldn’t be – it’s down to you.

The longer we’ve assisted people the more we’ve realised the more responsibility you take for yourself, the more power you have.

This post comes off the back of a conversation with a colleague who said how frustrated when people seemingly do things to damage their own situations. If the above applies to you…what can you do to make sure you’re making it that little bit easier?

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!

Do you need a `Yes Man’ to help you in your case?

Yes!

Do you need to be validated?

It’s amazing how many people want to convince us that they’re right. We’re…no one. What we thinks doesn’t matter. We can’t make orders in the family court and give you what you want.

Our job could be really easy. We’ll invoice you, agree with you and if/when it goes wrong we’ll have a cup of coffee with you afterwards – telling you that you’ve been stitched up, that the courts are corrupt and that it’s a travesty of justice.

Shooting the messenger

We’re gluttons for punishment though. We’ll tell you that email wasn’t a good idea. We’ll tell you that what you want looks more like a way to stick it to the ex than be child-focused. We’ll tell you that if you keep this up you really need to think about firing us, saving your cash and doing what you were going to do in this first place.

Perhaps…perhaps you’ll listen to us. Perhaps you won’t – and instead you’ll conclude we’re just as bad as the court, your previous solicitor/McKenzie Friend, the social worker, CAFCASS, the psychologist, the school and everyone else…because we’re saying exactly the same thing as them.

Perhaps you’ll decide it’s our fault, fire us and instead to use that nice lady who will speak softly, make you a nice cup of tea and tell you how difficult it is. After all…you’re not paying someone to say stuff that you don’t like are you?

Crystal ballInconvenient truths or comforting lies?

Your solicitor or McKenzie Friend should do a little more than say stuff that gives you the warm fuzzies. That doesn’t mean they should be bullet-headed masochists who want to kick you when you’re down…but they should be able to tell you when you’re in the process of spectacularly screwing your own case up.

Sometimes you’re going to be right. Sometimes…not so much. You really need someone to tell you that. And you need to listen to that. Ever heard of the legend of Cassandra? The prophetess who was cursed to forever know exactly what was going to happen including awful disasters…but doomed to be ignored.

It’s scarily similar to how we feel at times.

A good advert

We want you to do well – let’s be honest…it doesn’t look good on us if too many of our clients got awful outcomes, would it? So we’re going to advise you what is most likely to achieve your goals.

Court is hard enough as it is – we don’t want to fight you too. We want all the energy we have to work together, to get the result that is right and to make it as easy as possible.

As always…it’s down to you.

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.