As the title suggests I recently represented myself in Family Court. I would like to share with others how I found the whole experience.
However I will not go into specific details due to both confidentiality and the fact my ex is threatening me with legal action unless I take down this blog. This legal threat is in addition to the fact my ex continues to alienate my children against me and emotionally abuse them despite numerous Court Orders and professionals ordering her to stop. I have now not had any contact with my children for just over 14 months. For those unfamiliar with the term parental alienation please see here.
In terms of representing myself I had no choice. I simply could not afford a barrister. I am in an enormous amount of debt and I have borrowed all I can from those close to me. In the context of parental alienation, fighting to simply be a part of your children’s lives is an incredibly costly affair. My ex and I have spent approximately £20,000 in legal fees between us (that’s 26,762 in US dollars).
“My ex’s aim is to totally erase me and my side of my family from the live’s of my children.”
My plan is to be a part of my children’s lives. I do not wish to shut their mother out of their lives. I simply want the abuse to stop and for me to have regular contact with my children. I will pursue a change of residence if my ex continues to refuse to change her approach. My ex’s aim is to totally erase me and my side of my family from the live’s of my children.
So I digress. On the morning of the court appearance I met up with a very close friend of mine who I shall refer to as G who also happens to be a McKenzie friend and a work colleague. An hour before the hearing we met for coffee. During this time we talked about anything and everything apart from the impending hearing. We talked about work, mutual friends and each others children.
At this point I would like to take this opportunity to talk about friendships in relation to parental alienation. Over the last fourteen months I have really discovered who my real friends are. All previous mutual friends of my ex and I have abandoned me due to them believing me to be a cheat, a lier, a child beater and a thief. Obviously all of these are false allegations, but a parent that alienates, quickly aquires what is known as enablers. These enablers believe such lies and false allegations and as such knowingly or unknowingly feed, enable and encourage the alienating behaviours of the targeting parent. The subject of enablers is explored in more detail in an earlier article of mine entitled An Open Letter to Enablers of Parental Alienation.
“I have no time for so called ‘friends’ that desert those who need help and support at the most tragic of times.”
Numerous other friends and even members of my own family have fallen victim to my ex’s lies about me. I have no time for those that judge others unkindly. I have no time for so called friends that desert those who need help and support at the most tragic of times. I now surround myself with a small circle of positive, loving, caring and trustworthy friends and family and I am fortunate enough to count G as being part of this group of friends and family.
Let me tell you a bit about G. We have worked together within the same team on psychiatric units for several years. We have nursed people at their most lowest ebb in their life. I have witnessed G‘s unconditional compassion, kindness and care in the most challenging of circumstances. G is the kind of friend that would give you the shirt off his own back. Actually after I separated from my ex she cut up all my clothes, leaving me with no clothes at all. Within a couple of days G gave me one of his own shirts!
And so back to the story of my day at court. The pre-hearing meet up with G helped enormously. Then the time came to leave and walk down to the court which was just five minutes walk away. On the way and only on the way did we talk tactics regarding the hearing and my planned appoach.
Upon arrival at court we entered the main doors, and went through the obligatory security checks and made our way into the family court area and sat together in a private room that we managed to find.
With or without legal representation, I find the whole experience of going to court disempowering, uneccesarily formal and hierarchical. So there we were, G and I sitting in this room waiting. I felt apprehensive but confidently cautious with the approach I was planning to take. G kept me distracted and amused while we waited.
“Are you comfortable with representing and supporting someone who abuses their own children?”
Approximately 40 minutes later the court clerk knocked on the door and informed us that the Judge was ready to see us. With a tone of confidence that surprised even myself I informed the clerk “I’m not ready to see the Judge yet. I wanted to speak with the other side’s barrister beforehand.“
“Oh, okay, not a problem, I will go and get her for you.” The court clerk responded, with a sense of surprise.
“Thank you” I replied.
Within a minute my ex’s barrister entered the room and introduced herself. Her overall demeanour was cold and overly formal. I gestured for her to sit down to which her non-verbal expression suggested she was being somewhat inconvenienced by such a request.
“I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions before we went into court” I informed her, as she sat down.
“Okay” she remarked in a somwhat aloof manner.
I asked her outrightly “Are you aware that your client is emotionally abusing our children and is also denying me contact with my children?“
“Today is not about the children matters, I am here today to represent my client regarding the divorce proceedings” she replied. Although she attempted to remain expressionless, by her non-verbal gestures she appeared to be taken aback by my question.
“I accept that. However what I am asking is are you aware of your client’s alienating and abusing behaviours towards our children.” I tried yet again, a bit firmer in tone this time.
“Like I said Mr btg-dad, I am not at liberty to discuss any matters regarding the children.” In turn, her tone became firmer and much more assertive.
“I am not asking you to discuss any matters regarding my children. However your client’s current treatment of our children and the ongoing contact denial needs to be understood and taken into consideration regarding what each side is asking for from this divorce hearing.“
“Like I said Mr btg-dad, I am not at liberty to discuss any matters regarding the children.” She was now beginning to sound like a robot.
“Okay, I would just like to ask you one more question if I may. I’m not questioning your professionalism, this relates more to your own morals. Are you comfortable with representing and supporting someone who abuses their own children?” I did not expect an answer, but as an alienated parent, it was a question that I just needed to ask.
“That’s an inappropriate question Mr btg-dad and I am not willing to answer it.” Her tone was now abrupt. She appeared to be insulted by what I was asking.
“Well, I don’t think so, considering my children are being abused on a daily basis by your client and I haven’t seen them for over a year. I think I have more than earnt the right to ask someone like you such a question.” This I said in a slow, casual and soft tone so as not to be seen to express any agitation or frustration.
“I think we should make our way into court now Mr btg-dad” she said as she stood up and left the room.
As she left the room I turned and smiled at G and said “right, that’s how it’s going to be then. Come on then, we better go and get this bullshit over and done with.“
We both stood up and G gave me a supportive touch on the shoulder as we left the room and made our way to the court room.
Obviously I can’t go into detail about the proceedings within the court room. But I was pleasantly surprised by the way I represented myself in court. I kept a cool head, remained articulate throughout and felt comfortable cross-examining the other side.
In summing up the hearing, the Judge’s only criticism of me was that I kept referring to the ongoing concerns regarding the children. But even so, she said this was understandable.
So what have I learnt from representing myself in Family Court?
- Take a trusted friend with you as a McKenzie Friend. There is a legal loophole (in the UK) that allows you to do this. If you are not aware of this and want details of how to do this, contact me here or Direct Message me on Twitter.
- Representing yourself is not as dreadful as one might imagine.
- No one knows your story more than you. The truth doesn’t have to be remembered.
- Representing yourself and standing up for the truth is good for your self-confidence and increases your will-power and inner strength to carry on.
- Definitely prepare your approach. Start at least a week before, so you have time to reflect and reconsider any planned questions.
- Evidence is key to the whole proceedings. As time consuming as it is, evidence gathering is essential.
- You can take evidence into Court with you if you have missed the deadline for submission of evidence prior to the court hearing.
- I found it useful to type up a word document of questions to take with me. I left spaces in between the questions to take notes of salient points that may arise that relate to certain questions you may be asking.
- At the end of the proceedings you will be asked to provide a verbal ‘summing up‘ (summary) of what it is you are asking for and back this up with a quick reference to any evidence you have provided. I completely forgot about this bit! So I just had to ‘blag it‘ as I went along.
- Barrister’s talk a lot more bullshit than I initially thought.
- Barrister’s are much more immoral than I previously thought.
The Dalai Lama once said “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways. Either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”