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Self-representing in court - my story

(10 Posts)
Sprig1 Tue 25-Sep-18 14:16:20

I know that lots of people are worried about self-representing in court and having done so for both the financial aspects of my divorce and, very recently, child arrangements I thought I would put forward my view that it is actually not that bad!
I could have afforded solicitors/barristers but felt that nobody was going to know my position as well as me so I didn't think I had anything to lose by doing it my self. My Ex-H is a very difficult character so it was not an easy ride by any stretch of the imagination.
I will concentrate on the child arrangement side of things but happy to answer any questions on the whole lot.
My ex was the applicant for this as we had an informal agreement that I changed (he originally had every weekend and I changed it to every other weekend and one night during the week). As resident parent I basically enforced this myself and he applied to the court for a child arrangement order 'to decide who DS should live with'. He was suggesting that DS (8yo) should live with him full time despite only seeing his Dad at weekends since separation when DS was 3 (his choice). There had also been incidents of threatening behaviour, resulting in the police being called, but no arrests/charges.
One of the greatest frustrations through the whole thing was the slow timescales and often poor admin of the court system. We had a couple of hearings adjourned because letters were not sent out from the court until the week before and then he said he could not make it. Also for our first hearing CAFCASS had not produced their report so we all turned up only to be sent straight home again.
Final hearing was last week. In the financial aspects of our divorce I had judges at each hearing that I thought did a good job but one that really seemed to take against me so I was a bit worried about what would happen with the child arrangements. I don't know if it is the same in all areas but we had magistrates (x3) instead of a judge. Nobody had told me this would be the case but it seemed to work well. They have a legal advisor in court to make sure that the correct process is being followed.
At our second hearing it was ordered that no further CAFCASS/other reports were required and that we should each submit a position statement 2 weeks before the final hearing (and exchange with the other). As we were both self-representing, we were then to bring a list of questions in response to the other's position statement to the court on the day of the final hearing. The legal advisor would ask the questions, we were not allowed to cross-examine each other.
At the final hearing we had 2 x magistrates (I guess one may have been off sick, but it was not mentioned). The hearing was scheduled for 'all day'. I didn't believe it could possibly take that long but it did, we were there from 0900-1630. First of all we went in to the court room and the head magistrate explained how the day would run. I was the respondent so my ex went on the stand first (an actual stand, near the front of the room but we were allowed to sit down). He was asked questions first by the legal advisor and then by the magistrates so they could understand the background of the case, the current situation and what he was proposing. The legal advisor then asked him my questions (even if they had discussed similar points before). We then swapped and I went up on the stand and went through the same process. I felt they were very fair and thorough and we both had an opportunity to have our say on each point (he had an opportunity to ask questions at the end based on my time on the stand and I made notes during his and went through them when I was up there).
I would say it definitely pays to do your research. I made reference to the child welfare checklist and made sure all my points were about what was best for DS. My ex spent a lot of time talking about how bad I was and this didn't go down well with the magistrates. They were clearly very keen to maintain the status quo if possible and, broadly speaking, that is what happened.
I felt that my questions were really what helped me out. I had thought in advance what why ex might fail to mention/be intentionally unclear on and my questions were targeted to make sure that those points were raised. They were only short bullet points and that seemed to go down well. My ex wrote his with a para of comment and then a question and the legal advisor ended up paraphrasing.
I would say don't be afraid. Of course I was nervous, it was pivotal for my child's future well being but so long as you go in with a child focused view and always tell the truth then I don't think you can go far wrong. The court are very keen to help you out with anything procedural/points of law you don't understand. Just ask as you are going along.
I hope that's helpful. I could have written pages but have kept it short and you can ask away if you have any questions.

OP’s posts: |
Xenia Tue 25-Sep-18 15:50:35

That is really interesting to hear. As a (non family) lawyer i have the same problems - courts not sending letters on time, papers lost, things done at last minute - it is so bad I rarely get cases going to hearings - we just try to settle early (not so easy in family cases of this kind).

Your ex should have known he was not likely to get full time residence and I agree that preparation is key to it and short notes. Sometimes I have clients wanting to write 20 pages to let out their frustrations - save that for the therapist and go for short lists of bullet points and only your best points - don't throw in the kitchen sink with it all.

You seem to have done very well.

Lily007 Tue 25-Sep-18 19:04:29

Hi Sprig1

I found your post really interesting

I’m also a litigant in person (I have a background in law but civil litigation not matrimonial).

I was married 23 years, together 25 years but STBXH earns significantly more than I do. No children so just finances to sort out.

Any advice/information you might have would be really appreciated.

Sprig1 Tue 25-Sep-18 19:19:47

Lily. I would say preparation, preparation and more preparation for the finance side. Make sure you have read everything that you get from him and try and think through how the judge will be thinking on the day. That way hopefully you will have an answer for any question that may be thrown at you and also will know if there are any discrepancies in his submission.
Do you know if your ex will be represented? In my experience they will try and bully you but you just need to take your time, stand your ground and be very clear to the judge that you will ask if there is something from a legal point of view that you don't understand.
Frustratingly you may find that not sticking to the rules is not always punished. For example many people get away with submitting docs late and hearings still go ahead so be prepared for that. One mistake I made in the finances (and I am not sure if this was just how this particular judge worked) was putting forward my 'compromise' position first. I thought I would be reasonable and rather than asking for a hard line 'I want everything' figure I went for something that should have been palatable to everyone. My ex didn't. The judge was adamant that we should both compromise, despite the fact that my ex started off from a very unreasonable position and I did not.
I suppose the other thing that really helped me is researching what kind of outcomes other people in similar situations ended up with. Clearly things vary but it gives you an idea of what is reasonable. I suppose you are in a slightly tricky situation there in as much as you had a long marriage but no children so there will be less examples to find. If you haven't already done so then a free 30 mins with a solicitor may give you a good idea of what would be considered a reasonable outcome. Good luck!

OP’s posts: |
wakeupsmelltheroses Tue 25-Sep-18 20:35:50

My EH is a very difficult person also.

What did you end up with as a financial consent if you do not mind saying ?

Thanks

MissedTheBoatAgain Wed 26-Sep-18 07:12:56

What did you end up with as a financial consent if you do not mind saying ?

Even if OP was prepared to answer that it would not be helpful to yourself as no two divorces will ever be identical.

Xenia Wed 26-Sep-18 08:05:34

Lily, we settled without financial hearings. That is another option and is done in very many cases (as long as the court then approves/seals the agreed consent order it just as binding as if you have hearings before the courts or a mediator to battle it out)

wakeupsmelltheroses Wed 26-Sep-18 08:23:46

I know op it will not be the same it’s just a comparison . A rough idea is what I meant . I’m just curious . You kindly told us your outcome I just want any op to compare .

Marnimajor Wed 26-Sep-18 08:46:37

In my experience women are much better at self-representing than men. The men think they’re going to be better then show themselves up due to having absolutely no insight into their child’s needs

Sprig1 Wed 26-Sep-18 11:02:08

I forgot to say that for the financial aspects we settled (just) before the final hearing. My ex had legal representation for finances. It was going to cost him a lot of money to go to the final hearing and I believe that was a factor in him agreeing to something that was acceptable to me.
Our outcome was as follows (for context I had 2 years as a SAHM when our son was born but apart from that we were on similar wages. Following separation I was doing all weekday childcare). Pensions - we each kept our pensions (him 88k, me 36k). The house equity was split with a guaranteed £150k for me and the remainder to him - 51k in the end). The agreement we came to was that the house would be sold and I would get a guaranteed minimum sum in order that I could rehouse me and my son. A minimum price that the house would be sold for was set by the court. It worked out well for me as the house went on the market for a price that would have given him quite a bit more money. It didn't sell. I had to go back to court to get the advertised price dropped, it still didn't sell so I offered to buy him out at the min price ordered by the court and that is what happened. I was very happy with the outcome as it meant that my son could stay in his house (and I didn't have the costs of moving). This is where being a litigant in person can be really helpful. I knew that the value the surveyor appointed by the court put on the house was too high so I put together a strategy that meant it was likely that things would work out in my favour. It could have been that it did sell at a higher price but in that instance I would have had to move but I would also have been satisfied with my guaranteed minimum share of the equity.

OP’s posts: |

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