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Anyone have experience of representing themselves in family court or how to create a case bundle?

(15 Posts)
sandangels Sat 16-Apr-16 17:21:59

My emotionally and verbally abusive ex is taking me to court for visitation. I cut visitation a few months ago when I saw him direct some abusive behaviour toward our daughter outside of my home. He has lied about my motivation and is arguing the usual boring rhetoric of me being the bitter ex who is using our child as a pawn etc... I can disprove this very easily. I would like supervised visitation and for him to get counselling and parenting classes. I only have 3 weeks to prepare and I am in the process of gathering statements from friends, family and professionals as well as all other evidence I can provide. I am not entitled to legal aid and cannot afford a solicitor.

Any advice is most appreciated. I am trying to get some money together and have contacted advice lines and organizations for free advice.

Any examples of how things usually go, how to prepare a case bundle, how to present evidence and just general advice would be so appreciated.

Fourormore Sat 16-Apr-16 17:42:38

This book is really helpful - The Family Court without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0956777422/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_awd_MTMexbJ2XECE1

sandangels Sat 16-Apr-16 19:09:07

Thank you Fourormore!

I'll be grabbing a copy from the library on Monday.

May I ask, have you represented yourself in family court before?

Toffeelatteplease Sat 16-Apr-16 19:12:02

I've done it. I wouldn't want to do it again. You're too emotionally involved

sandangels Sat 16-Apr-16 19:46:41

Toffee do you have any tips? I'm trying to get some money together for a solicitor but I am preparing for the worst case scenario.

Fourormore Sat 16-Apr-16 19:54:07

Not me but my husband has and I do a lot of the preparation. Never had to do a bundle. Have had McKenzie Friends for some of the time and they have done bundles for us as part of their fee.

Toffeelatteplease Sun 17-Apr-16 15:31:01

Get a solicitor. Seriously.

runningincircles12 Sun 17-Apr-16 18:09:57

Hi OP. Is your ex legally represented? As he is the applicant, it would be his responsibility to prepare the court bundle. In addition, where one party is represented, that party should prepare the bundle even if they are the respondent. However, if he is in person too, your main goal is to try to get something coherent to the judge.

Normally you would only need to lodge a bundle if the hearing is listed for more than an hour. Normally the bundle would be in an A4 lever arch file with the sections separated by cardboard/paper dividers. Each divider would have a number- A,B,C,D,E etc.

The sections would normally be split as follows for your type of case
A- position statements, chronology, case summary (ie documents prepared for that particular hearing that give the judge a snapshot of the case)
B- applications and orders- ie copy of the C100 and any supplemental forms, copies of any orders made by the court, in date order
C- statements and affidavits- ie witness statements from you and ex
D- reports (ie Cafcass report, any medical reports ordered by the court)
E- any other documents although you should only include things that are genuinely relevant. Correspondence is normally not relevant (if it was you would have exhibited it to your witness statement)

Number all the pages throughout (don't start a new number for each section). Here is a link to the practice direction on how to present the bundle. www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/practice_directions/pd_part_27a#para4.1.

Make one copy for you and one for the judge. Ideally, your ex should agree the contents of the bundle before the hearing.

I really really recommend the book suggested upthread by Lucy Reed. Do get hold of it.

I would caution against using a McKenzie friend if they charge money. I think it is unethical to charge people money when you are not qualified and often do not know what you are doing. I have acted as McKenzie friend before (for free) for a friend. I am legally qualified and specialise in this area but there are many McKenzie friends out there who have little or no legal training.

It is easy to say 'just get a solicitor'. Ideally you should, yes. But solicitors would charge around £5,000 plus VAT for a final children act hearing. How do you magic that up? Especially since it could be better spent on your children. This is the sad. sad reality of cutting legal aid funding. Five years ago, you would have gotten legal aid no problem. sad

runningincircles12 Sun 17-Apr-16 18:16:50

The other thing I was going to say is to try to stay as calm as possible. It is obviously very emotional, but it helps if you can consider things rationally. Is there a friend or someone who could maybe support you through the process and maybe chat to you about it and throw 'devil's advocate' style questions at you? That can help, so that you don't get tempted to throw water over your ex in the court room (as one of my former client's ex did).

Also, remember that most of the time, the court will follow the recommendations of Cafcass . The law states that the child's welfare is paramount. It is the job of Cafcass to report to the court on welfare.

When the court appoints a Cafcass officer, he or she will want to speak to you as well as DD, so you can voice your concerns with them.

Fourormore Sun 17-Apr-16 18:18:49

I disagree with the point above about McKenzie Friends, though I appreciate it's a controversial topic.

The McKenzie Friends we have used have been extremely knowledge, helpful and supportive and were well worth their fees. They were certainly as much use as the barristers we had who charged over four times as much and achieved outcomes that were no better and on three occasions were actually worse than using a MF or going it alone. That isn't meant to be a generalisation and I imagine as a whole, solicitors and barristers are well worth their fees but McKenzie Friends do have a place, IMO.

runningincircles12 Sun 17-Apr-16 19:08:06

I am sure that there are good ones out there, maybe former practitioners or similar. However, because there are so many bad ones and they can cause significant obstruction to proceedings. Sometimes that obstruction is not evident to the client who is paying for their services. For example, hearings may go ahead when they could have settled. I think my main problem is that they are completely unregulated. There are crappy barristers and solicitors too, definitely. But they are regulated and you have recourse if they screw up. You don't for McKenzie friends. I have read horror stories on mumsnet about McKenzie friends charging money and messing things up. A not insignificant number of McKenzie friends are practitioners who have been struck off or disbarred for various reasons. Some of them are people who failed law school exams. As I said before, I am sure there are good ones out there and I don't want to generalise, but because of the variation in quality, I would never recommend that someone use one. If someone else has a word of mouth recommendation, that it a different thing.

Familylawsolicitor Mon 18-Apr-16 05:31:48

There are lots of solicitors who post on this board and we can help you. However it sounds like this is the first hearing. Is that correct? You haven't been to court before? A First Hearing and Dispute Resolution Appointment?

You are not required to present any evidence at the first hearing and whilst technically the rules say a bundle is needed nobody ever does one for a FHDRA (in my local court there are local rules saying no bundle is needed for the first hearing) and when a bundle is needed this is the Applicant's responsibility not yours.

Unless there is a court direction to file statements you don't need to do so and the court will not look at your statements if presented at court if no direction to file.

The first hearing is about safeguarding checks and the court deciding what directions for evidence need to be made. It's setting things up to gather evidence to be considered at a later stage. It will also consider contact now on an interim basis. The court may make directions at the first hearing to file statements so you may have a chance to present those after the hearing. You should have a number of weeks to prepare them. You can have them ready if you want but it's often best to hear what he is going to say/allege about you so that you can respond.

Cafcass will contact you before the first hearing for a telephone interview and carry out police checks for you both. The court will have passed his application to cafcass for this to be done automatically. Cafcass will file a safeguarding letter stating whether any further safeguarding steps are needed and setting out any concerns. That's a brief letter and a longer report called a section 7 report may be directed after that hearing. The cafcass officer should also be at court for the first hearing to assist discussions outside the courtroom about contact I.e. Is it possible to agree anything at the first hearing. You can ask the court at the first hearing to order supervised contact only.

The courts are extremely used to litigants in person as legal aid has been removed for virtually all. I would also recommend the book by Lucy Reed linked to above. It is possible to represent yourself throughout and get a barrister on direct access or a solicitor just to do the hearings themselves if you find them intimidating.

Vicky1990 Mon 18-Apr-16 06:23:03

What does your daughter have to say about this, does she want to see her dad, how old is she.

Toffeelatteplease Mon 18-Apr-16 08:00:18

I know it sounds flippant but based on my experience there is no way on earth I would recommend it if you do need to restrict a child's access to their non resident parent. I do think it is easier if you are in court to see more of your children, it is a very different matter.

I would argue if there is good reason to restrict a relationship with a NRP, there is nothing more important that you can spend that money on. And in my case it took a hell of a lot more money to try a sort out what could well have been achieved first off with a solicitor. Only by that time I was most definitely coming from behind.

If there genuinely is no way you can access the money I genuinely have no better advice that what has otherwise been offered. But my advice would always be beg or borrow the money to get representation

runningincircles12 Mon 18-Apr-16 08:37:38

Yes, as Familylawsolicitor says, you wouldn't need a bundle for a FHDRA. It's only if your case has been listed for more than an hour that you would need to lodge a bundle. Sorry, I should have checked with you the type of hearing. It's probably a good idea to start filing your documents in this manner though, to make it easier for the future.

Yes, I agree Toffeelatteplease but for many parents, it's simply not possible to find the money or to borrow it. And what you actually need is ongoing legal representation rather than paying for one-off representation at hearings. If OP is able to access funds, of course this is an important thing to spend money on. Not if it's a choice between legal fees and food/accommodation though. OP, have you tried to see if anyone can take the case on pro-bono? The Bar Pro-Bono unit offers representation (although I believe that they are inundated with requests, so very difficult to get this). Any request would have to come via a referrer (law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau or similar). Here are some links that you could try:

www.lawcentres.org.uk
www.adviceguide.org.uk
www.adviceuk.org.uk

I agree with Familylawsolicitor about the statements from friends and professionals. The court will not look at these unless they have made a direction that statements from those people should be filed, so you should not bring these to court.

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