My Experience As A McKenzie Friend

The truth is, in the OnlyDads office, day in and day out we tell Dads (and many mums) that in the area of family law disputes they should go and take advice from a Resolution member Family Solicitor.  We hear the arguments against doing so – so I then qualify my advice with a “well at least go and find out what is and isn’t possible; even though you don’t take the advice, at least explore where you and your family stand, legally speaking”.

So when I was asked a couple of months ago to be someone’s McKenzie Friend I had pause for thought.

My initial response (see above) was met with “I’ve done all that, I know what my daughter needs and I want you to stand by my side while I achieve that through the Courts”

I can’t go into detail but it’s a case of mum and dad not agreeing over contact arrangements.

I decided this needed a pint of Otter and a further chat with the Dad in question….

I put him off with one of my lists:

  • I’m NOT a solicitor
  • Employing a Solicitor will demonstrate to the Court that you are serious at least.
  • Solicitor’s will be better and more experienced than me in keeping you “on message”
  • I last studied law 20 years ago! My Family Law lecturer at London Uni  wore tight jeans, Doc Martins, and carried around with her an intellectual, and highly desirable, left-wing package and a blonde bob and all in all I was a quivering wreck and couldn’t listen straight found some of the finer elements of Family Law tricky.
  • I’m not at all convinced I’ll be any good!!!

It was when he came back with, “Bob, OnlyDads puts children first – and I know you!! You don’t get all aggressive – you just want what’s best for my daughter and I need you – so please say yes…”

…that I agreed to be his McKenzie Friend.

GULP!

Now while I’ve had more than anyone’s fair share of Family Court through the years, both with a Solicitor by my side and with as a Litigant-in-person nothing quite prepared me for the sense of “I’m going to win this for you pal” that swept over me on entering the Court.

“Winning and losing?!” Every bone in my body told me beforehand that this was not about winning and losing – it was about a Dad getting to see more of the daughter he loves so much. But there I was – eyes focussed and ears pricked. It is a feeling that could almost be described as aggressive – if not aggressive, certainly wholly determined not to lose.

It was also the “other side” (there – see, I’ve done it again – it’s not about “sides”!) who didn’t help matters. But it wasn’t just that. The Court room had all the stuff you see on the telly. Benches and Clerks, and we were ushered to different “sides” and sitting down all I could see was a MASSIVE Coat of Arms hovering over the whole proceedings.

Dieu et mon droit – In modern Britain, don’t we have to ask which God and what is Right?

It seemed to me the whole court room was fit for sentencing a temporarily delinquent 17 y/o white middle class youth to a spell at Her Majesty’s leisure, than dealing with an emotional and complex set of problematic family issues.

A quick plea to Court Architects coming up – you CAN do better and it would make such a big difference to proceedings!

McKenzie Friends are not allowed to speak in Court. But thankfully I had plenty of time beforehand to rehearse what needed to be said. On the day itself I even got time to prepare an alternative “draft order”.

But in court, I was reduced to shoving bits of paper backwards and forwards, and quite literally “holding the hand” of the Dad next to me – one squeeze for ignore what is being said about you, and a really firm grip for “just shut up and don’t even breathe!” Compared to Solicitors, McKenzie Friends are reduced to a very passive role – I felt like a puppeteer and a ventriloquist rolled into one!

In the heat of the Court Room I did want to demolish the arguments being put forward by the mum’s solicitor (of course I did) – but with a firm grip on both our arms, it was quite easy to sit back and watch the solicitor in question dig himself into a hole. In our pre-prepared speech, my pal just concentrated on the needs of a small child to spend more time with a  Dad who loves her. We said nothing negative about the ex…nothing at all – and let everything that was said about him as a man and a Dad simply wash over us.

It won’t be easy for my (friend/client/mate – what do you call him??) as he will recall lots of those horrible things said in the days and weeks ahead mind you. This stuff sticks and hurts. But the good news is, he is now going to get the desired contact, and with his small child at his house all weekend, he won’t be having any time to mope!

I said I’d meet up with him later this week to see how he is doing…I think we both deserve another Otter 🙂

This post raises many questions, and I would love to have comments from McKenzies, or those who have used them, and also from Solicitors and others, to see how they feel when up against a Mackenzie Friend.

Advertisements

About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to My Experience As A McKenzie Friend

  1. Great post Bob. There are good reasons why McKenzie friends aren’t allowed to play a full part in court proceedings, but I hope you felt that the support you were able to offer gave your friend that extra confidence he needed to help persuade the judge to see his point of view.

    • onlydads says:

      Hi Suzy – thank you very much for this comment.

      If you could spare a few seconds, I’m sure many reading this would be interested in finding out what the reasons are for McKenzie Friends not being able to take full part in court proceedings. Would you be able to list these out for us?

      Bob

  2. CoffeeCurls says:

    I’d never heard of McKenzie friends until I read this. Well done you for stepping up to the plate and giving him the support he so clearly needed. I’m so glad it worked out for the best.

    • onlydads says:

      Thanks for the comment CC.

      As with all these things, it will be an ongoing process and we will all be back in court again in a few months time…but so far, so good.

      Bob x

  3. ThinkingFox says:

    Bravo!!! Bravo indeed!!

    For recognising that the architecture of the Court can make antagonists out of all of us, for supporting your friend in what will have seemed his darkest hour, and for your friend himself… and his daughter!

    Bravo Bob. You’re a giant amongst men!

    x

  4. Rebecca says:

    Well done you. I wonder how many people know about McKenzie friends? Seems to me there is a really important role there, particularly for dads who may not find it so easy to get the support they need. Agree with you on the environment of the court house, seems to me to be completely innapropriate for such proceedings. Apparently a competition has been launched to design a new pylon, perhaps the same could be held for the family court room?

    • onlydads says:

      As you know Rebecca, in my former life I used to work alongside church congregations who were looking to do something radical with their church buildings. My initial advice was always to move out of their existing damp and delapadated heap and build something new.

      My second bit of advice was then to build something that REALLY didn’t look anything like a church.

      Nobody listened to me (no change there then) but I know I’m right 😉

      Same with Court buildings I think.

      Bob

  5. I used a McKenzie’s friend for my children’s contact and residence orders. At the time a really useful clarification on their assistance had been issued (see http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1293 and also http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1568).

    I was a litigant in person because I simply couldn’t afford legal representation.

    I experienced the full panoply of evasion, condescension and plain incomprehension from the legal executive who accompanied my ex to the hearings. She objected to my McKenzie’s friend being present (which got potted straight away on citing the latest clarification); she then tried communicating solely with my McKenzie’s friend, which, if he’d fallen for it, would have meant I’d have been without support for the rest of the hearings. Documents I requested were provided at the very last minute and ridiculous requests, statements and allegations were made.

    My hearings were in chambers, so no scary court rooms, and the judge was very helpful.

    Since then, I’ve also been a McKenzie’s friend on two occasions, both for the same person. In both cases, the judge was happy with the way we conducted ourselves. I’d agree that there’s a lot of pre-hearing effort and rehearsal involved, not to mention the ability to flick through books at lightning speed on occasion.

    Best of luck for the next hearing.

    • onlydads says:

      well done you Anna 🙂

      This was my first experience – and as you say, there are a few hurdles and “tricks of the trade” to navigate. Which is sad, but real.

      I bet you make for an excellent McKenzie Friend – can just tell!!

      Bob x

  6. iamstartingover says:

    A friend of mine was looking for a McKenzie Friend but found the charges too expensive. Is charging normal practice and if so, how do people know what is a fair price?

    (Great article by the way)

    • onlydads says:

      Hi – I think the majority of McKenzie Friends do charge. The question of what is a fair price is a difficult one. There are too many variables – one can’t be sure how long cases will take or the time it will take in preparation. And different people will have different skills and experience.

      I would have thought £30 – £40 pound an hour would not be unreasonable for people to charge.

      That may seem like a lot – but I know from my (very) limited experience that some of the work I did pre-court was very “heads down” and demanded lot’s of attention to detail.

      Thanks for the comment as well – much appreciated.

      Bob

  7. Great article Bob. Your friend was very lucky to have you at his side. Keeping quiet and being positive about the other parent when you are faced with a lot of flack in return is immensely sound advice but so very hard to do – even for lawyers!

    Keep up all your great work for single parents Bob – it is invaluable and very necessary.

    • onlydads says:

      How very kind Gillian.

      At a pure human level it is difficult to listen to some of the stuff that gets said in Court. When I first appointed my Solicitor (over 7 years ago now) I too would prepare draft statements and tend to go “off on one”. It’s understandable because of the hurt and upset. Amanda, my solicitor, would then meet me and take a red pen to huge chunks of what I had written – like my teacher!!

      …we ended up never saying anything negative about anything or anybody – just concentrated on my girls and my love and care for them.

      Such a valuable lesson !

      Bob

  8. Pingback: New McKenzie Friend Service | OnlyDads

  9. Pingback: A McKenzie Friend is a Friend Indeed – Flawbord

  10. I know quite a few McKenzie Friends and have been a McKenzie myself (not currently due to other commitments). You’re more likely to find a McKenzie through the larger charities and it’s always advisable to get one through recommendation (no I’m not touting for business for the McKenzies I know!)… it’s simply sensible. I would recommend you always ask for a CV AND ask if they can give references who you can contact. Also do a google search on both their name and their business name (if they use one)… and stick on ‘family law’ or ‘mckenzie friend’ in the search terms. There are some charlatans out there, but then again, not all solicitors do a good job either.

    Questions to ask include what level of court they have experience in (family proceedings, county, high court and court of appeal), what type of family work and whether they can assist with the financial aspects of separation (if you need this).

    Private Family Law can be relatively straightforward and many cases can be handled with a reasonable knowledge of court processes and a dollop of common sense. Common sense is just as important… as is being able to think on your feet. However, where cases are more complex involving serious allegations with the likelihood of emotional and ‘highly charged’ issues to be considered in court, a litigant in person (someone without a solicitor/barrister) can be disadvantaged when it comes to cross-examining their ex, cafcass, social services etc or whoever else may be giving evidence. A McKenzie might be allowed to speak on your behalf if the judge gives permission, but it is by no means certain that that permission will be granted. If you become easily stressed, emotional or tongue-tied, you may be better with a solicitor. If you can articulate your case, then an experienced McKenzie to quietly advise should save a small fortune.

    Where cases involve relocation (children moving some distance within the UK, or abroad), you need a McKenzie specifically experienced in this area, or a solicitor/barrister (again, experienced in this area) as the law is more complex and there is judicial guidance and case law which is vital to understand. These cases are easily messed up by the inexperienced.

    The best advice is stay child focused, don’t fall into the trap of spending most of your time talking about your ex and their arguments/case, but concentrate on your proposals for the children, and put forward clearly and simply why your proposals are in the best interests of the children. Also, don’t be afraid to point out your ex’s strengths. Courts like to see parents who are capable of co-operating or where co-operation appears possible in the future. Common mistakes are becoming angry when the ex lies, spending all your time proving they are a liar, being aggressive and being hostile. Don’t lose your temper!

    Whoever is advising you, be it a McKenzie or a solicitor, remember the decisions are yours, it’s your children, your case, and no-one but you and your children will have to live with the outcome. Use your own judgment on what advice to follow whoever it comes from.

    As for statements… I’ve helped with a few hundred over the years, and most of the work involves pruning rather than adding to it. The temptation which Bob talks of, of ‘going off on one’ is something almost everyone does. Keep it short, pointed, and pertinent, and again… child focused. I’ve seen awesome 5 page statements which won complex cases by zeroing in on the important matters, and 200 page statements which threw in everything including the kitchen sink in terms of case law, research etc, but were so long winded that no-one would read them. Your statement is a chance to enter evidence in support of your case… don’t waste it, or obscure your strong arguments with fluff and irrelevances (such as out of date crisp packets in the children’s lunch box or your ex wearing too much makeup… I kid you not).

    Bob said… ‘“Winning and losing?!” Every bone in my body told me beforehand that this was not about winning and losing – it was about a Dad getting to see more of the daughter he loves so much.’ Absolutely, and plan what you want to say, and stick to it! One other suggestion is the argument is not asking for more time, but explaining what you’ll do with that time (helping with homework, supporting them in their extra-curricular activities), and why that additional time with you is in the children’s best interests. Paint a picture for the judge of family life and what the children will gain if he makes an order (not in your) but in the children’s favour. A couple of photos in a statement is no bad thing showing family life e.g. you and the kids (choose natural rather than posed ones). Only a couple mind… don’t throw in the whole photo album.

    Any new McKenzie feels the same as Bob. There’s the thought of ‘am I up to this’, the risk of becoming too subjective, and it’s emotionally demanding too. Never be afraid to say ‘I’m not sure… I don’t know…’, and remember that anything can happen court. I wrote guidance for new McKenzie Friends at the request of a national charity to share tips that I’ve picked up over time. The guidance was also approved by a number of McKenzies with many years experience. By all means have a read http://www.thecustodyminefield.com/18.html

    Best of luck to you.

    Michael Robinson
    The Custody Minefield

    • onlydads says:

      Michael – I can say no more than all you say makes perfect sense – and thank you for taking the trouble to write at such length. Very much appreciated.

      Bob

  11. Hello Bob,
    Great article. I do think that alot of people would benefit from knowing they don’t have to go it alone simply because they can’t afford solicitor’s fees.

    I have taken numerous calls outside of solicitor’s hours. That can be priceless for a someone who needs someone to talk. Anyone who I have worked with can tell you its worth every penny having someone there for you.

    A word of warning though – make sure that your McKenzie Friend listens to you. There are a few out there on the campaign trail and they will not do your case any good at all. The right McKenzie can smooth things over and help to present your case reasonably to the Judge. Essentially, he or she should help you think clearly and keep your head in the most unsettling of situations. I have even been given rights of audience in a around half my cases and in others I have helped to negotiate outside of the court room.

    I am happy to help. Been there myself – all the way to the Court of Appeal.

    Jason Wiggins
    mckenziefriend.biz

    • onlydads says:

      thanks for the comments – i agree, for those mums and dads who look to the McKenzie route, finding the “right” one is as important a task as anything in the process.

      Well put!

  12. Andy Peacher says:

    Hi im in england no mackenzie friend or solicitor will help in my case my scottish solictor has been slow and not doing a lot.

    i have a child issues the children are in scotland aged 15 for the boy and 13 for the girl.

    they are in care of highland council with parental rights taken away from us.

    The more time goes by the more help we need please put us in touch with help as we are desperate.

    Andy

    andrewpeacher2013@gmail.com 07827731060

    • Ricky says:

      I have read all of what you and others have said and now feel as I have courage for my son needs my help in a criminal proceedings thank you. Ricky johnson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s