Here at OnlyDads we are encountering many more dads who are going through court on their own – or as a Litigant in Person (LiP), to use the correct jargon. Having been a LiP myself, I can confirm that the advice that follows from Kate Butler is spot on.
What with Legal Aid reforms, court closures, and many law firms reducing or closing their Family law departments, an increasing number of people are choosing (or having to) represent themselves in family law cases. With that in mind, here is some advice for anyone going to court, including some essential do’s and don’ts.
- Do find out where the Court is well in advance (plan parking and so on). Court buildings vary tremendously – for example, find out whether it has a coffee shop if you are likely to be there for some time. Bear in mind you are likely to have to go through a metal detector on the way in so do not take cameras, penknives or aerosols as these will be confiscated.
- Do dress appropriately, as if you were going to an interview. The court staff, the Judge, and any lawyer or barrister involved in the case will most likely be wearing a suit. You don’t want to feel uncomfortable for being inappropriately dressed.
- Do take paper or a notebook with as you will find it helpful to make notes of what has happened and of points you might want to make.
- Do try to get to Court early, at least half an hour before the time of your hearing. Although you will have a hearing time, be prepared that you may not go in at that time. Even if the time estimate for how long the hearing will take is only short, be prepared that you could be at Court for at least half a day because of the way cases are dealt with.
- Do speak to your opponent’s lawyer or Barrister before the hearing. Don’t be afraid to ask them what is likely to happen in the hearing or what they will be saying to the Judge on their client’s behalf. Their job as an officer of the Court is to provide you with practical assistance even though they are not on “your side”.
- Don’t be intimidated. If you find your opponent’s lawyer is intimidating or patronising do not be afraid to say so. If they are using jargon or you do not understand what they mean, ask them to explain.
- Don’t interrupt or allow your own anger or distress get in the way. Really listen to what your opponent’s lawyer is saying. Try to avoid “bombarding” in trying to get your point across and every minute detail of what has happened in the past, as they are unlikely to want to know and it is unlikely to help at this stage.
- Do use the right form of address in court. When in the hearing address a District Judge as Sir or Ma’am. Magistrates are “your worships”. A Circuit Judge is “your honour”.
- Don’t worry that you won’t know what’s expected of you. You will probably find your opponent’s lawyer will do most of the talking even if you are making the application to the court.
- Don’t interrupt, try to speak when spoken to. Remember that you are not Rumpole of the Bailey – try to avoid “I put it to you” and other such phrases! If you feel you haven’t had a chance to have your say – courteously ask the Judge if it is OK for you to explain your position.
- Do make sure you understand before you leave the Court room what if anything, you are expected to do before the next hearing (this may include seeing CAFCASS if it is a children case, or filing evidence such as a Statement or answering questions about your finances).
- Don’t be afraid to go to a family lawyer and ask to pay for some of their time to go through things before the hearing. It may also be helpful to do the same afterwards to ensure that you are keeping on track.
The family court process can be frightening and confusing if you’ve never been to court before. By being prepared and knowing what to expect you can remove some of your own nervousness and therefore put yourself in a better position to give a good account of your case.
Written by Kate Butler, Woolley & Co family lawyer based in Northampton. Kate often works with individuals who are representing themselves in court providing advice on the court procedure and discussing the options available. For more details visit www.family-lawfirm.co.uk.