Many people cannot afford the extortionate fees that Solicitors/Barristers charge in Family Court. I have often asked myself if this is fair, especially in cases such as child contact. Many people are able to save themselves between £10,000 and £30,000 if not more in legal fees by representing themselves.
This is clearly a very daunting task, for this reason, many people are approaching McKenzie Friend’s such as myself, to provide a non-legal service as a ‘lay’ person to support the person, ‘the Litigant’, throughout the family court process at a fraction of the cost of Solicitors or Barristers.
I am not legally trained; however, I have a great deal of experience of the Family courts process, as for over 16 years I practised as a qualified Social Worker. I am able to relay my knowledge and common-sense advice whilst helping with the onset of a Family Court Application, with the knowledge that my service is inclusive for all.
Previously it was possible to get legal aid for family court applications, however since 2014 there have been changes, and legal aid is no longer available. This means that many parents are unable to afford legal representation when they are being denied access to their children.
For many parents, the thought of representing themselves is very intimidating and complex, because of this many parents and grandparents lose contact with their children or grandchildren.
DH Family and Court Solutions can offer knowledgeable advice and case management, in Children’s Act Proceedings at a fraction of the cost of a Solicitor in services such as:
Domestic Violence Non Molestation/Occupation Orders
Child Arrangement Orders
Shared Care Applications
Cases involving allegations of Domestic Abuse
Parental Alienation Cases
Transfer of residency
From 1 April 2013 changes were made to Legal Aid and, family court applications were prohibited from receiving legal aid money to cover fees. This is obviously very difficult if you cannot pay for legal representation, without funds, and therefore you are unable to access a solicitor to assist you to resolve a family dispute or application to family court. For example with regards to parenting time with your children, separation or divorce.
Without Legal Aid or funds to pay a solicitor, people have had to find an alternative way of preparing court cases and representing themselves in court. This is clearly very daunting for most people as without any idea of the procedures and legal etiquette you will need to follow. This can be confusing and often resulted in not being able to present an adequate representation in court to defend your case.
However, Help is at Hand, The court has for some years allowed people representing themselves (a Litigant in Person) to be assisted by a McKenzie Friend.
I am a very experienced McKenzie friend and I am able to prepare your case and support you in every way during the hearing.
McKenzie Friends - What are they?
If you cannot resolve your legal dispute through mediation it may be necessary to make an application to the court to have a situation resolved or, alternatively, you may have become a defendant or respondent in legal proceedings.
Often you may find yourself being taken to court by your ex-partner and may have little choice. It can be extremely expensive to engage a solicitor to help you and Legal Aid is only available in special cases. If you elect to become a Litigant in Person you will need to be able to present your own case to the court and this can be a daunting task both before, during and afterwards.
McKenzie Friend Can:
Give quiet advice on points of law to the litigant
Advise the litigant on issues that they might want to raise in Court
Suggest to the litigant questions that they might want to ask the other party or witnesses
Help organise documents
A McKenzie Friend Cannot:
Speak for the litigant
Address the Court (though the Judge may be prepared to hear from them if this would clarify an issue and assist in the swift administration of justice.)
Attend a closed court unless they have prior permission from the Court.
Sign Court documents on the litigant's behalf.
As your Mckenzie friend, I help support children and their families to help resolve family conflict. I am experienced with many clients having successfully represented them in court as a Litigant in Person with my guidance and support.
I am not trained in Law however hold a professional qualification and use my training and knowledge of the Children’s Act and working within the court setting to guide you in a professional manner.
The Process at Family court
If you wish to apply for a child arrangements order, you will need to make an application to either the County Court, the High Court or the Family Proceedings Court. A copy of the application is then served on the Respondent, who is usually the other parent.
In order to make an application to court is necessary to apply for mediation to prove to the court that you and your ex-partner have made every effort to arrange contact prior to making an application to the court to deal with it.
It is necessary to make an appointment with for a MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting)
You will then be required to attend a hearing. at the appropriate court. At that hearing or shortly before, both parents are usually invited to attend a brief meeting with a Children and Families Court Advisory Service officer (also known as a CAFCASS Officer). A CAFCASS Officer is someone who is experienced in dealing with conflicts regarding children. At this meeting, the Officer listens to both parties and sees if there are any areas of agreement. The CAFCASS Officer’s sole aim is to ensure that they advise the court of the best possible outcome for the child and puts the child’s welfare as paramount.
During the first hearing, the Judge (usually a CountyJudge) will ask the CAFCASS Officer for advice (if they are present) and will identify the areas of agreement and also any areas in dispute such as visitation rights etc. This hearing is usually short in length and in most instances the parents may not even speak with the Judge.
Where no agreement is reached, the Judge may ask for a detailed report to be drafted by the CAFCASS Officer. This can take anything from three to four months and therefore, the Judge is able to offer interim contact whilst this takes place.
What Will the Report Detail?
The CAFCASS Officer will interview and observe a number of things before reporting back to the Court. They will want to speak with both parents, possibly the school and may want to speak with family members. They may also wish to observe contact between parent and child in some cases. Depending on the age of the child, an Officer will speak to them alone to ascertain their wishes and feelings. The report will be given to everyone relevant before it goes in front of the Judge.
After this stage, there will be a further short hearing. A court will not always make an order. Most cases end at this point once both parents have reviewed the recommendations of the CAFCASS Officer if they feel the suggested contact sessions are agreeable to each party.
What Are the Considerations?
When reviewing applications, the Court, Judge and CAFCASS Officer will take a number of factors into consideration with regards to the child or children’s welfare. These are:
What is deemed to be best for the child and the feelings and wishes of the child. This is considered according to the child's age and understanding;
How capable the parents (and any other relevant people) are of meeting the needs of the child or children;
Any harm that the child is at risk of suffering or has suffered;
The likely effect of a change of circumstances on the child;
The age, background, personality, sex and any other characteristics that the Court believes to be relevant; and
The child's emotional, physical and educational needs.
Only if a parent does not agree to the recommendations, will a final hearing take place. In these circumstances, the Court hears evidence from the parents and any witnesses as necessary, before finally making a Child Arrangements Order.
It is important to remember that although this process may seem rather lengthy, the end result will be worth it. The most important consideration for the Court is what is best for the child. If you are a good parent and want the best for your child.