Written by James Belderbos

James predominantly advises on dispute resolution, employment, matrimonial, cohabitation and regulatory work. He is also a collaborative solicitor.

The thought of attending court for those who haven’t been before can be harrowing but being properly prepared and informed will reduce a lot of that stress. The more you put in, the less stressful you will find the process.

Whilst this short article is prepared to assist you in preparing for Court it is worth repeating here that applications to the Court should be considered as a last resort.

The more you put in, the less stressful you will find the process.

The reasons why you should avoid seeking answers and solutions through the Court process include other people making decisions about your family, you not being in control of the process, greater costs and the inadequacies of the court system with overburdened staff, lack of accommodation and delay. A court order is a blunt instrument for resolving unique issues for you and your children.

You may have no choice but to attend court if other solutions, including mediation and the collaborative process have failed or you are responding to an application made by a former partner.

Whatever type of hearing you are facing, it is vital that you are prepared for what may happen at court and at home whilst you are there.

Representation.

To be fully informed and prepared representation by a solicitor or a barrister is best. They will lift a considerable burden from you. Some solicitors will offer fixed fees or you could instruct a barrister on a direct access basis. Most solicitors offer a reduced fixed fee for an initial consultation during which you can make an informed decision over what is right for you. If you can’t afford legal fees publicly funded representation or Legal Aid may be available if you can fulfil strict criteria. Always consider who the right representative is for you. You need an expert, preferably accredited by Resolution and someone you feel comfortable with.

If represented simply to ask the solicitor or barrister what will happen at court and what you will need to do. That overview should give you the peace of mind that you require to approach the case constructively.

As a solicitor I always discuss with my client, as soon as I have a hearing date, what will happen on the day so that I can address any fears and dispel any myths that may be clouding my client’s view on what they can achieve for their family.

You may be surprised to hear that your first attendance may be the first of three or four hearings possibly more. In the majority of cases there is always the opportunity to settle a case so always ask your solicitor what can be done to avoid further hearings and costs.

Take along a friend or relative

Whilst they won’t be allowed into the court room you will find it beneficial to have them with you. Think about the right friend or relative. If you have a new partner they are unlikely to be the right person to take along. Always consider what your former partner will feel if they see you accompanied by someone. Will the person you choose to support you assist or aggravate an already difficult situation.

Keep the day free for you

You must ensure that you have the date marked clearly in your diary and, as far as is possible, booked off from work and other responsibilities. This means ensuring that someone is available not only to look after the children in the event of illness but there to pick up from school and give them their tea.

Whilst a hearing may be listed for nine in the morning with a time estimate of one hour it is best to set aside the whole day. Courts will often list many cases at one time and it is rare for hearings to start at the published times or time estimates adhered to. The last thing you want is to be concerned that you are not going to be at work for the afternoon if you’ve just taken the morning off. If a hearing finishes early, you deserve a rest or the opportunity to catch up with all the other things that you haven’t been able to do. Frequently negotiations take a considerable amount of time and can cause delay. This can, however, be advantageous if they result in a settlement, especially where this was never considered a possibility.

Make sure you know where the court is.

On the day itself you will find your mind preoccupied with what is going to happen at court. If your solicitor has not told you where the court is ask them and find out where the best place to park is. Find out the cost of parking and have the right change with you. If taking a friend then make sure they know when to nip out and top up the metre. Better still choose a car park with payment on exit or one which offers internet payment.

Documents

If you haven’t done so already ensure that your lever arch file with your papers in good order. If represented your solicitor should have prepared a bundle of core documents for the hearing. Ask for a copy of that from your solicitor. Try to avoid bringing large amounts of documents to court but if you do bring new ones ensure that you have sufficient copies for your representative and your former partner or representative.

On starting your case, open an email folder in your inbox specifically for letters and correspondence relating to the matter and a separate folder to include your own documents and those received.

You may prefer to have hard copies of all the documents and so it is always worthwhile having a lever arch file or box file in which to hold all your documents. It is vital that if you wish to hold hard copies of documents that you are sent that this file is as organised as possible so that you may find what you are looking for with ease.

Whilst technology at courts is improving keeping everything on your laptop isn’t always helpful. Wifi, at courts, isn’t as good as you might expect; make sure your laptop or phone is charged and both turned to silent. Bring your diary and dates that you need to avoid, like holidays, medical appointments or other events, for the next hearing. Dates can be changed but doing so isn’t easy and may necessitate another hearing and further costs.

Security

A trip to court is no holiday but the security is similar to that experienced boarding a flight. Umbrellas are best avoided and if you bring one will it will be left at security along with drinks and a whole host of other items. Drinks even in sealed containers will be checked by court staff. Avoid bringing anything you don’t need that will set off metal detectors as you are scanned on arrival. Security officers are told to confiscate anything that could be used as a weapon even stiletto heels!

Preparing yourself

Court hearings are not enjoyable for parties and you will undoubtedly find them difficult, but being nervous is normal. The more you can do to prepare and more open minded you are the more likely that you will get what you want from the day. You will be tense but must remember each court hearing can be another hurdle conquered bringing you closer to what you want to achieve. This moment like all will pass.

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