If you can afford legal representation (i.e. have someone speak on your behalf) it is likely to be easier for you to face your ex-partner. Unfortunately solicitors and barristers can be expensive and not everyone can afford to pay their fees. However, many solicitor’s firms are very understanding and may be able to help you in a number of different ways such as:
- Offering a discounted rate if you are on low income;
- Acting on a fixed fee basis (this will need to be agreed in advance);
- Helping you with a specific piece of work, such as preparing a statement or completing an application form (this option is known as “unbundled services”.
Instructing A Solicitor
It’s wise to shop around before instructing any solicitor. You need to find one who not only specialises in family law but more especially in domestic abuse cases. Accredited Resolution specialists in domestic abuse can be found here. The “Find a solicitor” section of the Law Society website is also useful to help you find a solicitor in your area, and it will give details of whether they undertake Legal Aid work plus their specialisms registered with the Law Society e.g. family panel or child panel.
Remember that just because they are making accusations it doesn’t mean that they will be believed. Judges are used to hearing false allegations so bear that in mind when you go in.
Instructing A Barrister
Some barristers will accept direct instructions from a client (this is called Direct Access) rather than the usual method of through a solicitor. So if you just want representation at a hearing this is something to consider but remember that barristers will not help you prepare any paperwork needed before hand. Make sure you find a set of barristers’ chambers that specialises in family law.
You may qualify for Legal Aid if you are the victim of domestic abuse. If you do qualify, you will be able to get representation at a hearing. You can check your eligibility here.
If you cannot afford a solicitor or barrister then you may consider a McKenzie Friend to offer support and assistance in court. There are different types of McKenzie Friends, including:
- family members, or friends;
- voluntary helpers attached to institutions or charities especially domestic abuse agencies, who generally do not charge for their help;
- fee-charging McKenzie Friends. Their charges can sometimes be quite high and you may be better off instructing a solicitor. So please do your research before hand and if possible use someone who has been recommended. McKenzie Friends can help by, providing moral support, taking notes in court, helping with paperwork but they are not allowed to speak in court unless the Judge gives permission.
Who Is Representing The Perpetrator?
If the perpetrator has a solicitor or a barrister then they should be easier to deal with – they may try and negotiate with you before you go into court to narrow down the issues. They may question you in court but they have to follow certain rules. If both parties have legal representation the court hearing will be easier to handle as any discussion will take place between the representatives. If neither of you have representation the Judge will lead the conduct of the case.
Things to consider when making an application to the court are:
- Confidentiality. If your address is confidential and is not known to the perpetrator you can request the court’s permission not to disclose it to them on any documents. This is done on a C8 form which is available on the court website here. Once granted permission by the court you can leave your address off any documents that they will be sent.
- Finances. If dealing with finances then ensure you blank out any details which may reveal your whereabouts before they are disclosed to the court, for example cash withdrawals or debit or credit card expenditure in your local area.
- Children. If dealing with Children Act matters you should complete a form C1A, you can find one here. On this form you will give the court details of the abuse you and/or the children have suffered and it will ask if you need any “special measures” (see below).
Waiting At Court
Before going to court you need to let the court know in advance that you will need what is known as “special measures” to be put in place for you to attend safely. This can include separate entrances from the perpetrator, separate waiting rooms or a screen in court so you don’t have to face them. You should contact the court manager in plenty of time before the hearing to discuss the special measures you require. Be aware that every court has different facilities available and some have none at all! Get them to confirm in writing if possible.
On arrival at court make yourself known to the security staff and if necessary show them any written confirmation you have that special measures are to be put in place. It is usually a good idea to call the court a day or two before the hearing to check that they have made the necessary arrangements.
Security at court is very similar to that at airports so don’t worry about the perpetrator bringing in any weapons.
In addition to any legal representation or McKenzie Friend, always take someone with you (a good friend or family member) to support you while you wait to go into court. Be warned: you may have to wait a long time before you go into the courtroom. It’s therefore useful to have someone there to talk to and take your mind off things as well as run errands, for example getting a drink or speaking to the usher to find out what is happening. They will not be able to come into court with you, so they may want to take a magazine or newspaper to read while they wait.
Refreshment facilities differ from court to court. Some have a café and some vending machines, all of which vary in quality. So go prepared. Security will ask you to sample any drinks on the way in.
If no screen is given then do not look at the perpetrator, just look at the Judge. The perpetrator or their representative may ask you questions in court but the Judge is the person who needs to hear the answer.
Be prepared for the perpetrator to make false allegations against you, particularly if they are acting in person. They may accuse you of being a drug addict, violent or seen as an unfit parent, etc. Remember that just because they are making accusations it doesn’t mean that they will be believed. Judges are used to hearing false allegations so bear that in mind when you go in.
Look at the Judge. If you are not sure how to answer the question you can ask for it to be repeated – this will give you more time to think.
The perpetrator may try and intimidate you in court, often by staring. They may know how to wind you up or to make you more nervous so just try and ignore that. The Judge is likely to notice their attempts to intimidate you and intervene. The Judge will also stop any questioning that is irrelevant, argumentative or abusive.
If you are representing yourself you may like to provide a Position Statement setting out your position prior to the hearing which can be given to the Judge. It is not a statement of your evidence but is, as its name suggests, your position on the matters the court is being asked to deal with at this hearing. Use bullet points or numbered paragraphs to help keep your position statement succinct. You could instruct a solicitor (on an unbundled services basis) to help you prepare this, if necessary.
A lot of people worry that their ex-partner will not agree to a fair settlement, particularly in financial proceedings. You need to be aware that the Judge can impose an order on the other party and therefore you don’t have to back down or to be bullied into agreeing to something that you are unhappy with or you think is unfair.
If the court proceedings relate to children, CAFCASS are likely to be involved at some point in the proceedings. They usually have to do a “safeguarding check” before the hearing and will send a letter confirming the outcome to the Judge. You will usually have the opportunity to speak to CAFCASS before the hearing. Make sure that you list the allegations, or make CAFCASS aware of the allegations, that you are making against your former partner. CAFCASS should check police records and check with social services to see if there have been any incidents in the past. Details of any incidents will be included in the letter to the court.
If you are facing court alone many people have found Lucy Reed’s book, ‘Family Court Without A Lawyer’ particularly useful.
You may find this article useful on preparing for court.
This article talks about what a Barrister does and doesn’t do.
Some courts offer a free ‘Support Through Court’ service. Volunteers offer support and guidance before, during, and after court. They ensure that those facing court alone feel prepared and supported in accessing justice.
Posted on June 20, 2019