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 straightfound 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.
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.