In family court cases you’re very likely to have to attend court without a lawyer. It’s a scary experience. Here we help you to prepare using ONRECORD, tell you about what other help might be available and explain what will happen.
For a lot of key information about preparing your actual statement and any other evidence you have to present to the court read here.
I’m going to need help. What’s available?
‘Support through Court’
Support through Court is a charity which helps people attending the family court who do not have a lawyer. They don’t provide legal advice but they do offer practical guidance and emotional support. The service is free. They have a space in some court buildings where they can meet you and their website lists which courts they are in.
Don’t leave it to the last minute. Go to the court beforehand to find out what’s on offer and where their office is. Then you won’t be in a panic on the day.
What if I have disabilities?
You should provide the court with details of any adjustments you may require to take part in the hearing, at the earliest opportunity. Assistance can include, for example, wheelchair access and communication aids. There is space to include this information on your court forms. However it is also a good idea to try to contact the court directly, by phone for example, to ensure that they have made the appropriate arrangements.
What if I need an Interpreter?
You can ask the court to provide an interpreter for your preferred language or a signer for sign language. The court will pay the interpreter’s fees. You should request the interpreter as soon as possible before the first hearing and check a couple of days before the hearing that it has been arranged. You should also check that an interpreter has been arranged for each subsequent hearing as the court may not automatically do so.
Should I get a McKenzie friend?
If you are attending court without a lawyer you may bring a friend, relative or support worker, who can come into the hearing with you. This person is called a McKenzie Friend and can sit with you and give you advice and support. You must tell the court about this beforehand so tell the usher when you sign in at court.
You have a right to a McKenzie Friend and the judge should only refuse to allow your McKenzie Friend for strong reasons which must be explained to you and your proposed McKenzie Friend if the request is refused.
What can a McKenzie friend do?
A McKenzie Friend should be somebody you trust who will be allowed to sit with you, write notes, explain things to you and help you organise any documents. They cannot speak to the judge for you or the other party’s lawyer unless they have special permission from the judge.
There are organisations and individuals who offer services as McKenzie Friends either free or for a fee. Some of these McKenzie Friends are legally qualified but they are not regulated and may not be legally qualified. If you are thinking about instructing someone who charges make sure you understand what they’re charging for and try to get some testimonials from other people they’ve helped. You need to be sure you can trust them to do a good job.
What if I’m worried about my safety?
If you are worried about being questioned directly by an ex who has been your abuser (which sadly does still happen although the law is likely to be changing soon) or if you are worried about having to question them directly at a hearing, you can ask the judge to ask the questions instead.
You may be worried about your safety from your ex or maybe seeing your ex face to face will make it difficult for you to take part in the hearing. If so you can ask the court to provide you with a separate waiting room but ask for this in advance so there’s more chance of it being organised.
You can ask the court to place a screen in between you and the other party, so that you cannot see each other. The judge will decide whether to grant this request having heard your reasons.
In very serious cases, for example if you’re alleging rape, you may ask to attend the hearing via a link so you do not have to be in the courtroom with the other party. The judge will decide on this based on your reasons.
A good example of a reason why you may need screens or a live link is if you have been diagnosed with PTSD and being in the room with your ex will be traumatising. You may be required to provide a report from your doctor or psychiatrist as evidence of your diagnosis. As with all the other requests if you intend to request screens or a live link you must inform the court as soon as possible beforehand to ensure that the issue can be decided and that the equipment is available at the hearing.
If you are afraid that you will be followed after court then you can ask the judge to get your ex to remain in the court building for a while after you have left to give you time to get away.
I’ve got to write a position statement. What’s that?
A position statement is a short document which you write before a hearing. See our guidance on how to write one. It helps the court and your ex to know what your situation is and what you’re asking for before they get to the actual hearing. It saves time, helps people to get organised and helps to avoid surprises when it comes to the hearing.
It’s a helpful way of getting information across to the judge and your ex clearly and concisely, particularly if you are nervous about speaking to the judge and fearful of forgetting things you want to raise.
If you prepare a position statement you should send it to the court and your ex at least a day before the hearing. Bring extra copies to court for the judge, CAFCASS and your ex.
What do I put in a position statement?
- Which hearing the position statement is for (date, case number, names of parties).
- What action has happened to obey court directions (decisions, orders) since the last hearing (for example, documents you have sent to the court, documents you have received from the other party, any documents the other party was supposed to send which you have not received).
- If you have failed to comply with any court directions, then provide a short explanation.
- If your ex has been seeing the children, briefly give a summary of your views on how contact has gone.
- If you have concerns about the child arrangements or, for example, incidents of domestic violence since the last hearing, then provide a short and concise summary of these problems too.
- Say what directions you want the judge to make at the coming hearing (for example if you want permission to file a statement or to instruct an expert or, if it is a financial case, perhaps you need disclosure of your ex’s bank statements or a valuation of a property)
- Say whether you are bringing a McKenzie Friend to court to support you and sit next to you. Provide brief details and request permission.
What do I NOT put in my position statement?
- Your position statement should not contain evidence, just a summary of the situation. It is different from a witness statement.
- Position statements should not usually be longer than a couple of sides of A4.
How do I prepare for a hearing?
- Read carefully your notice of hearing or any court order from the last hearing.
- Unless the order or notice of hearing states otherwise, you should attend court at least 30 minutes before the hearing starts.
- Expect to have to wait sometimes for a very long time, even the whole day.
- Make sure childcare is arranged for long enough.
- Take something to read to distract you whilst you wait.
- Take copies of all of the documents you have received from the court and all of the documents you have provided to the court so you can read them and refer to them if needs be.
- Keep all the documents in date order so you can see the history of what’s happened and you can find things quickly and easily.
What will happen when I arrive at the court?
- When you arrive, there will probably be a queue waiting to go inside the building.
- Security staff will ask you to walk through a metal detector and your bags will be checked.
- Find out which courtroom your case will be heard in. There will be a notice board listing all the cases by case number and saying which court room the hearing is in. Ask court staff if you are unsure where it is.
- There will normally be more than one case taking place that day in each courtroom, which is why you may have to wait.
- When you find the courtroom you should let the court staff know you’ve arrived. You will usually be asked to sign in at a reception or with the court usher outside the courtroom.
- If you feel able to speak to your ex or to their lawyer then you should also let them know that you have arrived.
- If your ex has a lawyer then the lawyer may approach you for one of more of the following reasons:
- to tell you their client’s position or views;
- to find out your position or views;
- to see if you and your ex can come to an agreement on some or all of the issues;
- to give you their client’s position statement and to take a copy of your position statement, if you have not already exchanged them.
- Then sit down and carefully read anything you’re given. Get ready to comment on it and express your views.
Here’s some guidance from the law society about what to expect from a lawyer in this situation.
The lawyer can be a helpful way of communicating with your ex and resolving some of the issues before going into court. However, if you feel uncomfortable you do not have to speak to them. You should tell the judge if you feel the lawyer is being aggressive or taking advantage of the fact that you haven’t got a lawyer yourself.
- If your hearing is about your child(ren) then you may also have to talk to an officer from CAFCASS who will want to find out your views and discuss possible outcomes.
- When the judge is ready to hear your case you will be called into the court room by the court usher.
What types of court hearings are there?
Different hearings have different purposes. Read the order or notice you receive from the court carefully as it will include directions/orders as to what’s required of you and your ex before the next hearing. It will also tell you the time and place of the next hearing. Allow yourself plenty of time to get things done so you’re not in a terrible last minute rush.
First Appointment/First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA):
This only applies to child arrangements and some other types of children cases. It is a hearing where the court will consider the applications for the first time to find out what the parties’ positions are. The parties will be encouraged to come to an agreement if possible. If this isn’t possible, the court will usually direct them to provide more evidence and arrange a further court hearing. In the meantime the court may make some interim orders about child contact, maintenance or about other issues.
Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) appointment:
This is a hearing designed to encourage parties to come to an agreement about their finances. At this hearing the judge will consider all the financial documents and the positions of each of the parties. This is not a final hearing and the court will not make any final decisions, but it will give guidance to the parties as to what the likely outcome would be if there were to be a final hearing. If the parties can reach an agreement on this basis, the court can approve the agreement and turn it into a final order. This hearing only applies to applications for financial orders, such as maintenance or transfer of property.
Fact Finding Hearing:
This is a hearing which is ordered when a party has made allegations of domestic violence or child abuse and it is unclear whether the allegations are true. The court will only arrange such a hearing if it considers that the case cannot properly be decided without the truth of the allegations being determined.
This is a hearing for the judge to review the case and consider whether there needs to be further information or action taken by the parties, CAFCASS or anyone else.
This is a hearing for the judge to review the child arrangements since the last order was made and consider whether to amend the order.
Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA):
This is a hearing before the final hearing, when all the reports, statements and any other information required is available to make a decision. The purpose of the DRA is to try to resolve as many issues as possible.
This is exactly what it says. A hearing at which the judge makes a final decision based on all the evidence.
The court bundle is the file or files containing all the documents and information that the court has to consider. It is set out in a certain order with an index. Each page of the bundle should have a letter and a number, for example A1, B1, C1. The letter refers to the section of the bundle and the number is the page number. There should be an index, which is a contents page, at the beginning of the bundle that lists all of the sections of the bundle, the documents in each section and their page numbers. All the documents are organised by date, chronologically. The bundle will be used in all the court hearings by the judge and the parties.
If the party who is the applicant in the case has a lawyer, then the applicant’s lawyer has to prepare the court bundle.
If the applicant does not have a lawyer, then the respondent’s lawyer should prepare the bundle.
(It’s not clear what happens if nobody has a lawyer!)
If you’re sent just the index to the court bundle and not the bundle itself then you will need to number your documents yourself in accordance with the index.
Don’t rely on the bundle to be complete – after all, someone else is responsible for putting it together. So always keep copies of anything you send to the court or to your ex and always keep anything you receive from the court or the other party. If you find something is missing make sure you ask for a copy and read it.
How can ONRECORD help with gathering family court evidence?
Using our app and website means you will have all you need to be able to build your case. We developed ONRECORD to offer a simple and confidential way of collecting and recording evidence for a wide range of uses, and when you need family court evidence, it could prove invaluable to have the evidence stored using ONRECORD.