Advice For Family Court – The Walls Have Ears

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During the second world war the British government set-up a propaganda campaign to discourage people from talking about sensitive material where it could be over-heard by spies. Both British and American government agencies used ordinary women to covertly provide information while living their normal lives. Virginia Hall (1906-1982), an American spy working for the British Special Operations, famously lost her leg and taught herself to walk without a limp on a fake leg, in order to help the resistance in France. Julia Child (1912-2004) handled a wide range of top-secret documents before becoming the television gourmet chef famed for bringing French cuisine to America. (The film ‘Julia & Julia’ (2009) gives a feel-good look at Julia Child the chef, if you’re interested.)

The Walls Have Ears.

The main purpose of the propaganda campaign was to alert people to the fact that, you never know who is listening. This same fact applies to family court. Regardless of how grand or bland the architecture of your family court may be, think of it like an office. An office full of workers, each with their different jobs to complete, under the same umbrella of family court. The receptionist, the admin staff, the usher, the solicitors and the magistrates all work together in the same building. Co-workers obviously talk to each other. They take tea breaks together, eat lunch, take some fresh air— they share opinions, observations and information. That is the nature of an office and family court is no different.

Be mindful…

From the moment that you walk into the court to the moment that you leave, the things that you say and do are being subtly noted. If there was a spy in the court it would probably be the usher. The usher is the person that escorts you to and from your hearing. An usher lingers and hovers with a clipboard, keeping things running smoothly and making mental notes. The usher is most likely on good terms with all co-workers, including the magistrates. If it’s relevant, information will be passed on to the magistrates by the usher. I think it’s fair to assume that the usher’s private opinion and observations are a key source of information as to what it happening outside the hearing room.

Keeping it real at court…

Ideally, you should remain calm and dignified throughout your day in court. To be disruptive, shouting and swearing at your ex and then acting like a pillar of piety in front of the magistrates is not going to wash. The magistrates will know differently. Similarly, sitting with your ex laughing and joking while claiming to the magistrates that you are afraid of him due to domestic abuse is also not going to wash. The best use of your time while waiting for your hearing is to go over your case. Make sure you are prepared to speak and know what you want to say.  You could check your evidence, go over your list of concerns and questions— anything to keep you focused and occupied.

Best foot forward for court…

Though attending family court is not attending a job interview, it would help to think of it like that. At a job interview you want to make a good impression from the moment you walk through the door. You are polite and courteous to everyone you meet, not just the person interviewing you. This is exactly the same in family court. Make a good impression from the moment you walk through the door. Register your arrival at reception and let the usher know you have arrived. Speak to everyone with the same professional and polite tone. If your ex is goading you, walk away. The usher can arrange a separate place for you to wait. In the hearing be respectful when other people are talking and polite as hell to the magistrates. Your case is given credibility if you show yourself to be a credible person from the outset.

For more information on your first time at family court read: What to Expect at Family Court

To ask a question, share your story or to offer your own advice & tips, leave a comment below.

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McKenzie Friend – giving a helping hand or just a bad plan?

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A McKenzie Friend is a voluntary helper that attends court with a litigant in heels. Their role is to assist you in the representation of your case. They offer moral support and their personal opinions and knowledge. At hearings they cannot talk to the court, but can take notes and quietly advise you on questions and points to raise.

Brief History…

The assistance of a McKenzie Friend is taken from a divorce case, McKenzie v. McKenzie, where the outcome went against the husband. In his appeal he stated that it was his lack of reasonable assistance that had led to his defeat.

Mr McKenzie had legal representation. However, changes to legal aid meant that Mr McKenzie could no longer afford the solicitors. The firm arranged for an Australian solicitor, who couldn’t practice under English Law, to help Mr McKenzie as a friend. The court weren’t happy with this – McKenzie’s friend was to take notes from the side and speak to him only during breaks.

It was acknowledged in his appeal, that Mr McKenzie’s right to reasonable assistance had been breached. Because of that case, every litigant representing themselves is entitled to help from a McKenzie Friend.

Who can be a McKenzie Friend?

Anyone. Since there is no legal training required for the role, pretty much anyone can do it. It could be a close friend or family member, a volunteer from an organisation or your next-door neighbour. Whoever it is, it’s important for them to understand their role and duty to confidentiality.  A lot of your personal life is discussed in court, so it also has to be someone you’re comfortable with.

You could pay for the service…

In the last five years, changes to legal aid entitlement has seen a rise in professional McKenzie Friends. For a fee you can gain access to a whole range of services: legal research & advice, case management, completing forms and document writing. It’s also becoming more common for professional McKenzie Friends to seek a right of audience – speak on you behalf.

In 2014, the Legal Services Consumer Panel published a report on Fee-charging McKenzie Friends. In highlighting some of the benefits of using a professional McKenzie Friend, the report states:

“…Family law clients, in particular, may not litigate out of choice, but are forced by circumstances to fight over hugely important matters, at a time of great emotional stress, in an environment that is unfamiliar and daunting to them…McKenzie Friends can principally benefit consumers by improving access to justice and enabling greater equality of arms, especially when the other side is represented…cases tend to progress more smoothly when McKenzie Friends can assist the court by encouraging litigants to separate emotion from facts, facilitate cooperation with court processes and other parties, help with case papers and so on.”

McKenzie Friend – helping hand or a bad plan?

David Bright was a professional McKenzie Friend who charged a fee for his services. In 2016, a jury found him guilty of perverting the course of justice. The emotional and financial cost to the parent he was assisting is unknown. As outlined in the consumer panel report, the risks associated with fee-charging McKenzie Friends include:

Agenda-driven McKenzie Friends – this includes those who deliberately set out to be disruptive or pursue a cause, with or without their client’s consent…poor quality advice…not understanding the limitations of the McKenzie Friend role…escalating fees…breach of privacy.

There are websites that claim to be vet their member McKenzie Friends. There is also list of the people interviewed by the Legal Services Consumer Panel in their report. Choosing to pay for the services of a McKenzie Friend is a personal one. I suggest researching, asking for credentials and references if you do.

Whether you pay or ask someone else to be your McKenzie Friend, you need to inform the court. Write a short letter outlining the person’s relationship to you. Include their experience and their understanding of the role and confidentiality.

Representing yourself at family court is difficult but not impossible. It’s your right to use a suitable McKenzie Friend to support and assist your court journey.

Has this post been helpful? Leave a comment and support a fellow Litigant in Heels. #mothers4justice2

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3 Quotes to Inspire the Proper Conduct of Mothers at Family Court

A first impression is often a lasting impression so it’s important to make a good one.  I once read a book that likened court hearings to job interviews and I think it’s a fair analogy. We conduct ourselves properly at a job interview because we want the employer to give us the job. We conduct ourselves properly at court because we want the magistrates to believe our side of the story.

Here are three quotes that I’ve found to inspire the proper conduct of any mother representing herself at court:

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“Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman” – Coco Chanel (1883-1971)

It’s a fact that looking good makes you feel better about yourself, so dress smart but comfortable. How you present yourself is one of the first things the magistrates will notice before they have the chance to speak to you. Looking nice portrays a subtle confidence that helps you to look more in control than you feel.

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“Patience is not about the ability to wait but how you act while you’re waiting” – Joyce Meyer (1943-present)

Courts are busy places and there’s every chance that your hearing will not be on time. Instead of pacing around and worrying about what could happen, be pro-active.  Run through what you’re going to say with a fine tooth-comb, making sure that you’ve included everything that you want to bring to the magistrates attention. If you are naturally impatient then ask for a private room or area so that you can practice speaking your points out loud. Run through your ex’s statement to make sure that you are well prepared to counteract any points that you disagree with. The more prepared you are the more confident you will feel.

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“Laws control the lesser man, right conduct controls the greater one.” – Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Court is not the place to argue or belittle your ex; and if your case is strong you won’t need to. Present your side of the story in a classy and dignified manner letting the facts speak for themselves. Don’t swear. Don’t interrupt. The magistrates will control the proceedings and give you plenty of time to speak and respond. If there is something that you don’t understand, be polite in asking for clarification. You don’t have to know the law to be successful in court but you do need to know how to behave.

How you present yourself will be the magistrates first impression of you and how you conduct yourself will be their lasting impression. Stay cool, classy, confident and in control.

Do you know any other quotes that could inspire the proper conduct of another mother representing herself at family court? If so, leave it as a comment and show your support.

#mothers4justice2

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Persuading with Proof makes a Convincing Case

One of the main differences between family and criminal proceedings is the way that decisions are made. For criminal court, everything relies on evidence and cases have been lost due to lack of it.  At family court, the magistrates are convinced on the ‘likelihood’ of one case being truer than the other. This means that a mother’s success at family court depends on her ability to convince the magistrates that her side of the story is truer than her ex’s. Having evidence to support any claim that you make will give your case credibility.

What evidence do you have?

Personal Statement

Could you get a statement from someone who has personal knowledge about the relevant facts or events in your case? A statement from a witness must be truthful and explain what the person has seen or heard for themselves not repeating what you have told them.

Expert Evidence

Though I have read that you cannot request a professional report without the court’s permission, you can ask an expert to write a letter on your behalf. Your doctor could confirm any illness or any medication you have to take due to stress. Your child’s teacher could write a short note on your child’s well-being. The key to expert evidence is that it remains within the context of your case. The purpose of proof is to support what you are claiming to be true.

Text Messages

Do you keep your messages? Read them again to see what can support your case.

Social Media

Sceenshots from social media can be: evidence of reckless behaviour, inappropriate lifestyle, slanderous comments and negative opinions. Remember, if you are going to bring your ex’s social media to the attention of the court, the door is open for your own account to be scrutinised.

Diary Entries

Do you keep a private diary to record your thoughts, feelings, opinions and emotions? Is there anything in your diary that could support your case? You don’t have to present your entire diary to the court. You can photocopy the relevant pages and blackout anything not needed.

To create a convincing case and persuade the magistrates that your case is in the best interests of your child, have evidence to support you. Check out

Representing yourself at family court doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. Can you think of any other evidence that could help another mother at family court? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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CAFCASS – What every Litigant Mother needs to know

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CAFCASS are involved in your case from the beginning. As a Litigant it is important to know who CAFCASS are, what role they play and how they can affect your case.

Who are they?

CAFCASS – the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service, is responsible for advising the magistrates on what is in the best interests of any children involved the case. They conduct their own investigation into your case and report their findings to the court.

What role do CAFCASS play?

When the court receives an application it will ask CAFCASS to carry out basic checks with the police and social services about you, your ex and the children.  They will report this information back to the court before the first hearing and you should receive a copy.

CAFCASS will be in contact with both you and your ex separately to arrange a telephone interview. The purpose of the interview is for the CAFCASS officer to get to the bottom of the disputes between parents. They will use the opportunity to help you and your ex reach a resolution, where possible. It is important, however, to not feel pressured into agreement. If you’re not happy with the recommendations from CAFCASS, stick to your guns and defend your position.

How can CAFCASS affect your case?

A CAFCASS officer will be present at your hearings. They are there to help sort the case by agreement and make suggestions on possible next steps. The magistrates are not legally bound to act upon the recommendations of CAFCASS.  But note, their input is influential and can have a dramatic impact on the final decision.

CAFCASS is a source of support when the problems between you and your ex can be resolved by agreement. However, if you feel that your position is strong and you have a case to heard, CAFCASS can feel like an obstacle on the road to justice. Be honest about any concerns you have but don’t expect them to share your views.

Acting as your own solicitor requires you to defend your position inside the courtroom and out of it. Be clear on what you think is in the best interests of your children to make handling organisations like CAFCASS much easier.

For more information on defending your position, read 5 Steps to creating a balanced argument.

Representing yourself at court as a mother can be lonely and exhausting, leave a comment and show your support.

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Family Court: Prepare and Organize Your Case

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The prospect of handling your own case without the services of a solicitor is daunting for anyone. While it’s tempting to bury your head in the sand, ignoring the court is the easiest way to ensure that your ex gets exactly what he is asking the court for.

Don’t panic!

Fairness is important in family court. The magistrates have an obligation to ensure that you understand the proceedings you are involved in. Not knowing the correct court procedure or jargon will not go against you, but an absence at court certainly will.

Be prepared…

The only consideration that the family courts are concerned with is what is in the best interests of the children at the heart of case. Every point that you make should be focused on what is in the very best interests of your child. Solely focusing on ‘your rights’, and all of the reasons why you are right is the wrong path to take and could work against you.

Understanding all of the arguments for your case and against it will greatly assist your preparation. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses will help you to be as persuasive as possible, not to mention enable you to run your case more effectively. As you will be questioned on the points that make up your case, knowing it from every angle will help you to feel confident and prepared.

Family court magistrates will make their decisions based on the recommendation of CAFCASS, evidence and the ‘likelihood’ of one case being truer than the other. This means that being persuasive and confident in your argument will be your greatest weapon. It is not enough to simply state that your ex is an unfit father. You have to be able to prove it so, what evidence have you got to support your claims?

Getting organised.

As a Litigant you will have to build, manage and present your case to the magistrates. The typical tasks that you will have to perform for yourself include:

  • Responding to applications
  • Form filling
  • Taking calls from CAFCASS and your ex’s solicitor
  • Receiving and responding to letters
  • Liaising with the court and other parties

lot  of paperwork accumulates when you handle your own case. File everything in a folder and keep a log of all phone calls. Use dividers to separate the different types of paperwork e.g. court orders, applications, solicitor letters, CAFCASS.

Organisation and a calm mind will help you to access information easily and handle the different communications effectively.

Is there something more that you could add? Do you have any tips to help a Litigant mother prepare and organize her case? Leave a comment and show your support.

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What to Expect at Family Court

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Family courts can be an intimidating place for many reasons. Unfamiliar surroundings, tension with the other party; not to mention the stress of representing your own case. For a litigant in heels who is under pressure or at a loss, I thought I’d share the main things you can expect at Family Court.

There will be a lot of waiting around.

Even if your hearing is listed for thirty minutes, courts are very busy places so it’s best to presume that it will take all day. Bring a drink and something to snack on. Use the time to go over your case papers and practice what you are going to say.

 You don’t have to wait with your ex and their solicitor.

Arrive at least half an hour before your hearing and register your arrival with reception. Let reception know that you are representing yourself and ask if they have somewhere quiet for you to prepare.

 Your case will be held in private.

There is no public gallery inside family proceedings and the media are strictly forbidden. It is most likely that your hearing will take place in a meeting room environment rather than a traditional setting.

You will not have to stand before a Judge.

Your case will be heard by Magistrates, usually three. The Magistrates are not legally qualified and will be assisted by a Legal Adviser who will also be present at your hearing.

Your ex’s solicitor will want to talk to you.

If your ex has a solicitor then they will want to introduce themselves before the hearing. They will also use this opportunity to see if anything can be agreed before entering the hearing. You don’t have to agree to anything but stay professional and polite—any concerns can be pointed out to the Magistrates.

A CAFCASS officer will be present at the hearing.

It’s usual practice for you to meet with a CAFCASS officer before going in your hearing to discuss your side of the case. It’s important to know that they will make their own recommendations to the court for possible next steps based on what they know from you and your ex. For more information on CAFCASS read: CAFCASS  –  What every Litigant Mother needs to know

The first hearing is for fact-finding.

The Magistrates will hear from you, your ex and the CAFCASS officer before deciding on the next steps. Whoever brought the case to court will speak first. If your ex has a solicitor, they will be speak on his behalf.  As a Litigant, you will have to address the court and speak for yourself.

It’s unlikely that your case will be resolved at the first hearing.

 After the Magistrates have heard from all the parties present, they will then make directions for the next steps to be taken. This might be ordering the parties to produce and file statements or evidence, requesting further information or for more in-depth checks to take place. There are usually two or three hearings before final orders are made.

Is there anything that you could add to help another mother representing herself in Family Court? Leave a comment and show your support.

#mothers4justice2

This site is run on donation,

So please don’t think it rude,

If I suggest re-numeration,

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