37 Things To Think About If You’re In or Heading Through A Court Case For Your Children- By Steven Wade From Family Law Assistance
Whether you use a solicitor or represent yourself in a child contact dispute there is a lot you can do to help your cause that has nothing to do with an in-depth knowledge of the Children Act.
The court is an alien environment to many and often a stressful one too – hardly surprising consider what is at stake. But on the upside it’s a well-worn path that many (too many) people have trod learning what works and what doesn’t.
Better still – it isn’t that complicated!
Here are 37 things to consider if you are in – or heading for – a court case involving your children:
1. Go to court only if there is no alternative. Try mediation even if you sure it won’t work. If nothing else it’s a prerequisite before you go to court in any case!
2. If you do go to court take it seriously. Accept your life will probably be disrupted by the legal process and maybe as a result of the outcome too.
3. Look after yourself! Socialise, have fun and exercise. You need to be at the top of your game both mentally and physically
4. There are no wigs or gowns in the family court. Just rooms with desks and judges or magistrates who know how stressful it is for many people.
5. Be polite in court but don’t worry about calling the judge by the wrong title. `Sir’ or `Ma’am’ is usually a safe bet. You won’t get in trouble for getting it wrong!
6. Answer a direction question with a direct answer.
7. Most of the `action’ takes place outside the courtroom. Cases can be cut short by negotiation, compromise and letting emotions cool a little.
8. It can seem slow. What is urgent to you isn’t necessarily urgent to the court. But also…
9. …delay is your enemy if you want a court to order something. The status quo is a powerful reason for leaving things as they are.
10. Only the court has a legal basis for restricting the relationship between a parent and a child. Social services, the police (except in very specialised situations) and parents don’t have the power to do this.
11. A residence order (now called a `lives with order’) doesn’t mean a parent can call the police to remove the child from the other parent.
12. Don’t make medical and psychological diagnoses. Mentioning things like `narcissism’ and `parent alienation’ seldom help your case.
13. Don’t criticise the other parent. Tell the court how what has happened isn’t in the best interests of your child and provide a solution instead.
14. Document everything. Significant dates, emails, phone calls, text messages.
15. Doing things for `the principle’ is a bad idea. It won’t work. But it will probably be expensive and you’ll likely be painting yourself in a bad light.
16. Be child-focused at all times. The court only cares about your child and so should you.
17. If you’re in a `damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation do the best for your child and move on.
18. If you’re accused of something that didn’t happen just say so. If the court is interested in something it will ask you about it.
19. Keep everything short and concise. Don’t lose your point in a mountain of paperwork!
20. Don’t let small niggles grow into major problems. Let go and focus on the big stuff.
21. Be nice to everyone you come into contact with in the court process no matter how hard it may seem.
22. If you have genuine welfare concerns report them to the police, social services or other appropriate agency immediately. If you’re not serious about them don’t wait until a court hearing to raise them.
23. Ask yourself regularly `Will any of this matter in ten years?’ Chances are by then you will want to get on with your life.
24. Keep quiet if provoked. You could end up being asked to explain ill-chosen words and actions in court and it may well affect the outcome if you don’t.
25. Consider representing yourself with the assistance of a `McKenzie Friend’. No one knows your case better than you and most people are able to do a great job at it too!
26. Leave nothing to chance. Prepare, prepare, prepare and then for good measure – prepare.
27. If you don’t agree with something – say so.
28. Complaining is usually a waste of time. Often at best you’re wasting your time and resource on your case. At worst you’re going to antagonise the people you’re complaining about.
29. You can’t appeal and order just because you don’t like the decision – you’ll need to prove the court got it wrong.
30. There is no link in law between contact and money. Children are not `pay per view’.
31. Be clear about what your goals are from the start and make sure the court has the power to order what you want.
32. Compromise! If you can live with a situation but not necessarily like it that can be good enough.
33. Even if you achieve all your goals in a court cases it’s going to feel like a `Pyrrhic Victory’. The most often used phrase used after a case is `We should have sorted this out over a cup of coffee’ – even by those who got what they wanted.
34. Understand it can be expensive. Solicitors typically charge at least £250 an hour and even if you use a McKenzie Friend it can be time consuming and draining to do everything that is needed.
35. Learn the basics. The `Welfare Checklist’ is the criteria the court uses to make a decision. What the children want is just one of 7 factors taken into consideration.
36. Let go of the past and concentrate on the future.
….and most importantly of all…
37. Don’t give up!