How Important are Position Statements and Section 7 Reports in the Family Court?
Representing Yourself in Court
Facing a Family Court hearing can be a daunting prospect for anyone, let alone if you’re representing yourself in court. There’s a lot of emotion and tension involved, and it’s hard to concentrate on the practical aspects of preparing for your hearing.
Knowing what documents you need to prepare and how to complete them correctly is a challenge. It’s really wise to get some support from a legal professional with the documentation so you know you’re doing things properly and maximising the chance of getting the outcome you want.
However, if you’re representing yourself in court due to the expense of hiring a solicitor (as many people are), this might not be an option for you.
So, does this mean your case will fail? Does it mean you’re not going to get the right outcome? The answer is a definitive NO. You are one of thousands of people who represent themselves and many of them are successful. Today, I’m going to talk to you about two important documents that will help you if you use them correctly.
What Important Documents do I Need to Know About?
The first is the Position Statement and, yes, you have to write it. This is an overview of your situation and what you would like the court to do for you. But how do you write one? Knowing how to effectively outline your circumstances and what action you’d like the court to take in a concise and logical manner is important.
You know what you want to say but is it what you should say? How formal should it be? How long? How detailed?
If there are children involved in your case, you might also have heard about the CAFCASS Section 7 Report and be wondering what it entails. Again, you’re likely to have questions that you want answered.
Does everyone have a Section 7 Report? Who writes it? Am I involved? What should I do or say?
To help you answer these questions and more, read on.
What is a Position Statement?
When you go to court, the judge needs to know what you want the court to do and why. Because being in court can be intimidating and you are likely to be nervous or unsure what to say, writing a Position Statement before the hearing gives you an opportunity to think about your position and your desired outcome.
If you don’t write a Position Statement in advance of your hearing, trying to explain things ‘off the cuff’ might mean important things are overlooked. A good Position Statement sets out your situation and what you want the court to do.
Preparing a Position Statement enables you to reflect, get comments from friends or family (or a legal professional), make sure you haven’t missed anything important and remove anything that is not important to what you want to achieve.
Having the time to choose the right wording, review what you have written, and make any changes to reinforce your arguments is essential. The end result should be a logical statement presenting the points the judge will want to know about and nothing more.
You’re going into court to ask the judge to help you. Writing an effective Position Statement is a golden opportunity to make progress in your case. Having it to refer to once you’re actually standing up in the courtroom will also be invaluable.
What You Should Include When Writing a Position Statement
First, you should explain the background to your situation, including when you and your ex met, if and when you got married, and how many children you have.
You should then detail the sequence of events that has resulted in your case coming to court. If you’re writing a Position Statement for a Second or Third Hearing, you’ll also want to explain what has happened since the last hearing.
If there are children involved, it’s important to refer to the Welfare Checklist when writing a Position Statement and ensure you’re covering the points included in the checklist. This will help the judge decide on any orders involving children.
Next, you should summarise the action you’d like the court to take. Your aim should be to make your statement sound as objective as possible, so it’s a good idea to run it past someone else who can look at it impartially, before you submit it to the court.
A Position Statement should not be too long; just the bare facts. It has to be something the judge can read quickly before coming into the courtroom, so don’t tell the whole history of your relationship.
Tips for Formatting an Effective Position Statement
- Include the case number, names of involved parties and the name of the court you’re attending at the top of the statement. Also include a title that references which hearing the Position Statement is for, i.e. ‘Position Statement for First Hearing’.
- Use plain English and avoid unnecessarily complicated language.
- Keep sentences and paragraphs short and succinct.
- Consider using bullet points or numbered lists so that the content is easily digestible and scannable.
- Number pages and paragraphs for ease of reference.
- Use an easy to read font with double spacing. Make sure there’s plenty of white space so the page doesn’t look too cluttered.
What Is a Section 7 Report?
When there are concerns about parents’ abilities to care for their children, and/or disputes about what the children want, the court will usually order CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to prepare a Section 7 Report.
As part of the process of writing the report, interviews will be held with both parties, as well as the children (depending on their ages). CAFCASS may also speak to other people such as family members, teachers or health workers, and carry out safeguarding checks if a concern has been raised on that front. They will then make a recommendation to the court.
How Can I Prepare for Being Interviewed by CAFCASS?
You might find the prospect of being interviewed very nerve-wracking; unfortunately, people can often make their situation worse by not handling their interview well or taking certain steps to ‘defend’ themselves, which can actually be perceived differently from what they intended.
It’s important to focus on your child’s needs above your own desires, and avoid saying negative things about your ex-partner unless necessary, especially where there is a high level of conflict between you and your ex. Try to rise above any emotions you might be feeling and be conscious of how you’re coming across. You want to appear reasonable and calm, rather than aggressive or agitated, so speak calmly and clearly.
Outline your plans for caring for your child to show that you’ve been considering the practicalities and have made preparations. Once again, it’s worth keeping in mind the Welfare Checklist, which will help the judge make a decision. Make sure you tell the truth rather than making false allegations or exaggerating certain aspects.
It can be hard to ignore any emotion you’re feeling, but it’s important for CAFCASS to be able to make an objective assessment of the situation, and letting emotions get the better of you won’t help your case.
Further Support with Position Statements and Section 7 Reports
There’s a lot more that goes into writing a good Position Statement than what I’ve outlined, but hopefully, this will give you a good start. If you can’t afford to get advice on your Position Statement or preparing for a Section 7 Report from a legal professional, you might be interested in my online short course.
The Position Statements and Section 7 Reports Short Course goes into a lot more detail and explains how to write a Position Statement that will maximise the chances of getting your preferred outcome.
It also covers the Section 7 Reports process, and how you can prepare for and interpret your report.
You’ll also learn how to challenge CAFCASS’s recommendation if it’s not the one you hoped for.
The course will help you understand both these important documents in a lot more depth, and how best to use them to support your case.
For much less than the cost of getting advice from a solicitor, you’ll gain all the knowledge you need to confidently represent yourself in court.
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.
You’ll also get access to a private members group just for course attendees, so you can talk to others who might be in a similar position to you.