27 Jan How to prepare for representing yourself in court
Did you know 18, 000 people represent themselves in the Family Court every month? So if you’re thinking of going down this route, you can be assured you’re not alone. Representing yourself in court is becoming more and more common as people struggle to afford an expensive solicitor, or simply feel that they can do a better job of it themselves.
Although I’d always advise employing a solicitor or barrister to act for you if you can, I know that self-representing in court is something you can do confidently without it jeopardising your case. All you need is some insider knowledge and a bit of thorough preparation behind you.
My experience of representing myself in court
Although I’m now a qualified barrister with 18 years of experience helping people represent themselves in the Family Court, I certainly didn’t start off this way. After separating from my wife in 2001, I was offered a meager one hour per month to see my two sons. I wanted to fight this, but couldn’t afford a solicitor.
So I decided to get clued up on the law and court rules and processes, and self-represent. I had no idea what I was doing, and constantly worried that I’d mess things up. To be honest with you, my initial experience wasn’t great. I felt like a fool and realised I hadn’t done as much preparation as I should have done, and that I hadn’t sought enough advice from the support services that are out there to help you represent yourself in court.
It was a steep learning curve, and included lodging an appeal which was perhaps best left alone, but ultimately I was able to gain much more contact with my sons and we have a great relationship today. The experience inspired me to support other people going through the same thing, first as a McKenzie Friend and then as a qualified Barrister. I also support people through my Facebook community.
Lessons from self-representing
Here are some of the key things I learnt from my own experience of representing myself in court:
- It’s really important to know the court procedures and rules, and to learn the terminology associated with the Family Court so you don’t get confused.
- Knowing what to ask for and when is also important.
- Be honest – you will be caught out if you tell lies and you’ll only end up tying yourself in knots.
- Always be polite (to everyone) and act sensibly – try not to let your emotions get the better of you.
- Seek the support that’s out there – there’s plenty of it if you take the time to research.
- Focus on your goal and try not to lose sight of what you want to achieve from the court process. Always keep your primary objective in mind.
- Don’t try to be clever or think you can manipulate the judge. I’ve seen people try all the tricks in the book and it won’t get you anywhere – judges are not stupid.
- Don’t let the court process affect the contact you do have at the moment with your child – make sure you enjoy it and be present when you’re with them. There’s no point not enjoying that time and letting the court process overshadow everything, although I know it can be hard.
You can learn more about my experience here if you’re interested.
How to prepare for representing yourself in the Family Court
If you’ve made that decision to represent yourself in court, first of all I’d like to say well done; it’s not an easy decision to make and I know you’ll have a lot of worries about what it’s going to be like and what you need to do to prepare for court.
Secondly, I’d like you to know that you don’t have to be an expert in the law to represent yourself in court successfully. It’s really not as difficult as you might think. However, you do need to seek the right support, learn the rules, prepare the right documentation, and plan what you’re going to do thoroughly. That’s not a quick job, and it’s something you’ll need to invest in if you don’t want to end up risking your case.
So, here’s some advice on preparing for representing yourself in court:
Write a comprehensive and concise Position Statement
A Position Statement sets out your position and circumstances, and what your desired outcome from the court hearing is. Writing it will help cement your thoughts and allow you to have a good think about where you’re at and where you want to be. It should be logical and clear, and cover important points the judge will want to know about.
I would suggest seeking support with writing your Position Statement to make sure it’s well-written and makes sense to someone objective who is not emotionally invested in your case.
This is an area I specialise in and have an online course on. Purchasing the course will be a cheaper option than booking time with a solicitor to go through it with you, or if you’d rather have that hands-on support, I’d be happy to help. The course goes into Position Statements in depth, giving you practical advice on how to approach writing yours.
If you’re not yet convinced about the course, I’ve also got a free lecture on Position Statements you can watch. It’s not as in-depth as the course, but will give you a good overview of the things you need to think about.
Your Position Statement is a vital part of the puzzle and making sure yours is well-written will stand you in good stead when you’re representing yourself in court.
Prepare for a Section 7 Report
If there are children involved in your case, you may be contacted by CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) and/or social services and be interviewed. Your child/children may also be interviewed, depending on their ages, as will the other party involved in the court hearing.
The CAFCASS report will include a recommendation to the court, so it’s important to prepare properly for the interview and present yourself in a good light to increase the chances of getting the outcome you want.
Again, you should get some expert support here rather than just ‘winging it.’ Find someone who can guide you through what to say and how to talk and behave when you’re interviewed. Section 7 Reports are also covered in my free lecture.
Whilst preparing for representing yourself in court, think about what evidence you can offer to support certain aspects of the case. We all think we know what evidence is, but in the Family Court, evidence is only that which proves that something did or did not happen.
When a Judge has two different versions of events, he or she often has to decide which party is the most truthful one. That decision will be informed by a number of factors, including each party’s general honesty over even trivial matters. This can include things brought up in conversation which the Judge knows to be true or false.
You can lose credibility by doing silly things, for example, claiming to be in fear of malicious allegations and therefore refusing to collect your child other than in a certain way which is inconvenient to the other parent. This tends to be viewed as controlling behaviour, the aim of which is to make the other parent’s life difficult.
You also have to think about hard evidence. As an example, if you are claiming that your ex phoned you 20 times last night, you need to be able to provide evidence of this, such as a screenshot of your call records. This is something which is easy to do, so if you fail to provide this the Judge will be suspicious of your claim. The Judge might also wonder why you didn’t switch your phone off after the first call or block your ex’s number, and question whether you called the police and if not why not.
The Judge’s attention would then turn to the other party, and he or she might ask to see their call log. If it shows that you did ring your ex, the Judge would ask why. The reason might be something as simple as ringing to let your ex know that your son left his PE kit at yours, but if the call log shows that you rang 20 times then it’s unlikely the Judge is going to believe you. Conversely, if the call log shows you only rang once or twice, and your ex is claiming you rang 20 times, then they are going to be the one who looks untruthful.
Evidence needs to be clear and show that something did or did not happen. Saying that you can’t remember how many times you rang your ex or how many times they rang you isn’t going to cut it. You need that clear hard evidence to back it up.
Support for representing yourself in court
If you’re unable to get any form of legal aid, there are various charities such as Citizens Advice who may be able to offer you some advice or direct you to other appropriate sources of help. This will of course depend on your particular circumstances.
Of course I can also help.
This Saturday 30 January 2021 I’m running my flagship course: Represent Yourself in the Family Court.
In the course I’ll work you through the whole process of representing yourself in court step by step. It will cover things such as:
- What it’s really like self-representing in court.
- What forms and documentation you need to prepare.
- How to address the judge and what to say.
- Who can support you during the process.
- Who CAFCASS are and how they will be involved in a children’s case.
- What makes good evidence.
- What happens on the day and afterwards.
You’ll also get access to a private Facebook group just for course attendees, so you can talk to others who might be in a similar position to you.
I’ve put all my knowledge and experience from 18 years in the Family Courts into this course, so you can be assured that you’ll be receiving up to date and valuable information from someone who knows what they’re talking about.
My aim is to empower you to feel confident that you can do this with a little preparation and some good advice – all of which this course will give you. Imagine walking out of that courtroom knowing that you did your best, whatever the outcome.
If you don’t feel ready to invest in the course, there’s also a free lecture you can watch which will give you an overview of the process of representing yourself in court.
I hope you found this blog post useful – let me know in the comments.
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