Representing yourself in your child contact case? Expect to be told the worst but keep this key fact in mind.
8th February 2022
How could I know that my first experience of a court hearing would lead to me qualifying as a barrister and pursuing a career in Family Law. I think back to that day. It was 2001, and it was a very different Simon Walland who went to court. Having my ex-wife’s solicitor run rings around me was a humiliating experience, but it was my wakeup call and, from then on, I was determined to know what I was up against.
If you’re reading this because you’re representing yourself in the Family Court in order to get, or increase contact, with your children, then I want to give you a really simple piece of advice that I wish I had been given back then.
Little did I know, as I stepped into that courtroom, that my ex would unleash a solicitor who would do their utmost to make me feel even more desperate and without hope than I already did. Little did I know that this solicitor would tell me that I didn’t deserve a relationship with my own children. And little did I know that this solicitor would say this and more in such a vicious manner that the Judge would remonstrate that a line had been crossed. That was a low point. Leaving Court that day, with these words echoed inside my head.
You’re not a good father.
Give up Simon.
You can’t win.
But I didn’t give up. So, don’t you give up either.
When I look back at myself, sitting outside the courtroom waiting to go in, contemplating life without my children, anxious, ashen-faced, sleep-deprived, it is painful to remember that I actually felt much worse when I came out. I have seen it so many times over the years I have worked in the Courts. I’ve seen that ‘me’ too often. It’s something that, as a parent, I feel deeply connected to. I have felt that gut-wrenching self-doubt and panic that comes with the thought of what is at stake.
So, let’s take a deep breath here. Let’s turn this around.
First, what is important for you to be aware of is that I am proof you can get through it. In fact, if you are willing to learn a little, and prepare for your case, you can do more than get through it. And OK, I didn’t turn it around overnight. There was no ‘telephone box and a cape’ moment. No superpowers. No Kryptonite.
But I did discover something important early enough for it to make a difference. It’s so simple and once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Realistically, when you deal with an unreasonable person, being reasonable will only put you where I was initially, head, brick wall, early grave. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the solicitor your unreasonable ex has hired is someone you can negotiate with either. They are just that same barrage of irrationality dressed up in a suit of respectability.
You must remember this.
Throughout the whole process, only one person can decide the outcome of the hearing. Your ex may tell you what will happen, their solicitor may write you unpleasant letters which also tell you what will happen, CAFCASS may even say you can’t have something. But they don’t make the decisions. The Judge does. Only the Judge.
Now, with this in mind you can make a fundamental shift in focus. Ready?
Everything you do, everything you say, every word you speak, and every word you write should be guided by this fact because to succeed at the end of the last hearing, you need the Judge to nod their head and think,
‘This parent is right, you know. They should see their children’.
That one sentence encapsulates your whole court case and should be your end goal. It is what the Judge says that matters. If you want to do something, or say something, or write a statement, does it lead to that one goal? It is such a simple thing to say to you, but it is the key, and it works. It has worked for all my clients, and it works for every lawyer that goes into court. If what you say does not lead you to that point, don’t waste the Judge’s time. Or yours.
It is hard to keep things so simple, but it absolutely laid the groundwork for everything I did from then on, all those years ago.
And me? The result was that my ex’s case unravelled in a remarkably short space of time, collapsing in a miserable heap of courtroom tears. Thankfully, this time, not mine. But most importantly, the result, which I am proud of to this day, is a wonderful relationship with both of my children.
So, keep focused remember your goal! And remember that one key fact, only the Judge can decide the outcome!