Family Law Advice & Help from a Professional McKenzie Friend
We know just how difficult settling family affairs in the court can be; that’s why we try to make the process as simple and pain-free as possible here at SCFL. We provide a wide array of family law services from complex drafting and negotiation, to legal advice and appointing skilled family mediators and much more.
Family law is very emotional and personal in nature, but as experts in this area of law, we are able to successfully reach agreements that result in the best possible outcomes for all of our clients. If you feel like you’re running into a brick wall and making no progress trying to hash things out on your own, give us a call (we offer a free 15-minute consultation) or pay us a visit to our office.
We completely understand the headache and pain that family law may seem to cause, but read about the services we produce below and you’ll see we can handle even the most difficult of cases with poise and politeness.
As it’s said, you get more with sugar with vinegar, so my approach is to always treat each of my clients and their former spouses with as much respect and friendliness as possible. We take pride in representing people from all creeds and walks of life, and are happy to reach a settlement with our clients that is productive and in line with their desired arrangement.
The world of family law may seem a bit complicated. You may be wondering what, exactly, it is that we do and how we can help you reach your goals in family disputes.
Here is a breakdown of the services we offer.
Here is a breakdown of the services we offer.
Give you strategic advice on your financial or child dispute.
Each and every case is different. While there are certainly some similarities in cases, no one family is alike. We take the time to break it down and really understand the situation that you and your family are in. We take everything into account from the dynamics of your family, to the ages of your children, to the current contact arrangements for seeing your children.
Let us know what exactly is your desired outcome in the realm of family law, and we will set you on the right track. Our firm, South Cotswold, acts as your “McKenzie Friend” where we provide you with the best advice possible and can assist you tremendously, without having to pay several thousand pounds for a Solicitor or deal with the headache of having to go at it alone.
We specialise in financial and child disputes. If you and your former spouse are in a disagreement and have not mapped out the living arrangements for your children, the mediator will help you map out a plan that is easy and reasonable for both parties. As far as finances are concerned, mediators in conjunction with your advisor can help you to negotiate a fairer amount of child maintenance than the child maintenance service provides. We are here to help as your professional McKenzie Friend.
Advise on the mediation, collaborative law, arbitration and court processes, and the pros and cons of each.
When it comes to family law, there is no “one size fits all” answer. Again, it is very personal and individualised in nature. That’s why we provide the best information and advice as far as what route we should take when pursuing legal action in the family court system. To break it down, there are four main routes to take:
Mediation is a great first step if possible, where the spouses themselves are able to calmly and productively map things out themselves along with a mediator. A mediator simply acts as a facilitator and makes sure both parties are staying on topic and focusing on the goals they’d like to accomplish, facilitating the discussion. But, that doesn’t always work out. Disputes arise, tension can flare and one party may not feel they are getting their fair share of the arrangement, whether it’s regarding visitation rights of children, living arrangements, or financial affairs.
That’s why collaborative law or arbitration may be the best bet for you and your family. With collaborative law, it is very much similar to mediation, where the spouses are encouraged to settle things themselves and come up with an agreement that is “collaborative” and reasonable for both parties. In the collaborative law system, clients and their solicitors or McKenzie friends like us at South Cotswold, conduct a “round table” meeting in order to come up with the best solution possible. The difference is that a mediator is not allowed to give you legal advice or act in your best interests. They most likely understand the law as well as a solicitor but have to be completely impartial.
Arbitration is slightly different – it does take the input of each of the clients into consideration, but it settles the final decisions with an impartial third party. The facts, situations, and desires of the spouses are taken into consideration; however, it is the impartial third party that makes the decision, which is legally binding and completely enforced and acknowledged by the courts. This may be the best option if reaching an agreement seems impossible with your former spouse. We will be there with you every step of the way and represent you to the best of our ability so you get the best outcome possible for you and your family.
Taking it to the highest, most “rigid” level, court processes may be the route you should take. We will consider everything about your case and assist you in carrying out this procedure as your professional McKenzie friend should you decide to do so. This option is best reserved for those with more hectic agreements where heads are bound to butt against each other.
When you’re trying to find a McKenzie friend, you want a firm that is able to represent you in a variety of different situations. No matter what your situation is or which route you are thinking of taking, we will guide you along that decision-making process as your McKenzie friend so that you choose the option that makes the most sense and has the highest chance of reaching your desired outcome.
Communicate with your ex-partner/spouse to try and reach an agreement, and save you the cost, both financial and emotional, of court proceedings.
SCFL is a member of Resolution and as such are committed to creating a rapport based on respect and friendliness is of the utmost importance, even when it comes to communicating with your ex-spouse or partner. Whether your separation is fairly amicable, or communication has completely broken down, we will make communication smooth and easy, in a way that’s not too taxing on your emotions.
Respectful communication and open dialogue are crucial when reaching family agreements, whether it pertains to child arrangements, determining who gets what, or filing for divorce, keeping a dialogue open is vital. As a professional McKenzie friend, we are able to assist you in this process and in the best-case scenario avoid court proceedings.
Most people are aware of the expensive nature of court proceedings. Going through the court system can end up costing you hundreds and thousands of pounds, and not always with the outcome you were seeking. Keep your money – instead, use a reputable, professional McKenzie friend that is there to keep things calm, cool and collected so that you can reach an agreement without the court. It is often underestimated how taxing and emotionally draining court proceedings can be. It is usually better to resolve matters by negotiation, rather than relying on the court to decide for you and your family.
Refer you and your opponent to a skilled family law mediator if an agreement cannot be reached through correspondence.
With a mediator that is skilled, experienced and productive you and your family will likely walk away with something that’s reasonable and just. But not all mediators are the same. At South Cotswold, we know all the ins and outs of the industry in family law, and have several great resources for some of the best family law mediators.
If an agreement cannot be made between you and your opponent, seeking out a mediator is your next step. We will appoint some that have great track records, are fair and help facilitate a healthy discussion between you and your opponent. Seeking out your own mediator can be quite a challenge. Each mediator has their own slightly different approach, but in my experience the best mediators are non judgmental, respectful and empathetic. At SCFL we carefully select from a list of accredited mediators committed to resolving your dispute as amicably as possible.
Prepare court application where a respondent (ex-spouse) will not sign the acknowledgement of service (in divorce proceedings).
The divorce process itself is usually relatively straightforward compared to resolving financial issues or arrangements for children. SCFL can help you to strategically manage your divorce proceedings from the outset to ensure that they are concluded as swiftly as possible. However, there are occasions when the ex spouse seeks to contest the divorce or refuses to sign the acknowledgement of service.
There are various ways to overcome this difficulty and help your divorce proceed smoothly. SCFL can advise you on the appropriate procedure if your ex spouse is not cooperating with the divorce, and complete the necessary paperwork on your behalf to proceed to the next stage.
Advise on the types of financial remedies available to unmarried people (or those not in a civil partnership).
Throughout your cohabiting relationship you begin to accumulate possessions and wealth together. Most couples do not consider it necessary to enter into a cohabitation agreement whilst they are perfectly happy together. However, if the relationship breaks down, sorting out a fair division of the car, furniture and most importantly the home can seem impossible. It is difficult to determine who owns what, whether you have a financial claim, and if any provision for ongoing financial support should be made (particularly if you have children together).
Different law is applied to cohabitant financial disputes, than that pertaining to married or civil partnership couples. Cohabitation law is relatively recent and somewhat more complex than matrimonial law. Fortunately, there are various financial remedies open to unmarried people. There are many areas to cover and ways to settle financial affairs once you separate from your partner. We are here to help you with:
Child support plans.
We will help you decide on an amount that your partner should pay to you and your family if your child mainly resides with you, and incorporate this into your agreement or court order.
Selling property and other assets.
Whether the house is in your ex partner’s sole name or joint names, it is difficult to agree upon separation who should occupy the house. If you have children together, the primary carer may possibly be able to live in the home with the children even if they do not own the property. The same is true if the house is owned in joint names. It may ultimately be that the house does have to be sold but the division of sale proceeds may not be straightforward. SCFL can help you to negotiate a fair financial settlement in your favour and advise on your prospects of success if you are considering court proceedings.
Receiving a lump sum from your partner.
Did you invest some money in your partner’s property on the understanding that you would be entitled to a share? While it can be a bit of a grey area, we can work with you on getting your hard-earned money back.
If you have any other questions about financial affairs between you and your spouse, please contact us and we will set up a consultation with you to determine what the most productive option would be for you to take. We have extensive experience in a diverse range of cases and are able to reach the best settlements possible for our clients. Take a look at our “Case Studies” section to see more.
Explain the purpose of contact centres, process servers and other agencies.
There are a wide variety of agencies that pertain to the field of family law that can help you out tremendously and may in fact be absolutely necessary. Two agencies who may be able to assist you are contact centres and process servers.
Contact centres are places where some parents may spend time with their children. The resident parent may have raised some concerns about the welfare of the children, and as such contact centres are sometimes seen as a short-term measure to allow the non-resident parent to allow them to spend time with their children. Whilst not ideal, contact centres can provide the non-resident parent the opportunity to spend time with their child while matters are being resolved.
Process Servers are people who serve court orders to ex-spouses/partners, usually within injunction proceedings. SCFL can also assist with helping you to track down a former spouse or partner to enable you to issue divorce proceedings or help you to regain contact with your children.
Explain the role and remit of the CAFCASS officer and the judge.
Law can be a bit tricky to navigate on your own if you don’t have a background in it. But don’t worry, we will provide you with some basic knowledge which can benefit you should you have to go through with mediation, arbitration or court proceedings. We will really break down these concepts for you so you know how to work with them and know what they can and cannot do.
To give you a brief understanding of these concepts, from the official website of Cafcass, a “CAFCASS” officer is somebody who: “carries out safeguarding checks in children’s cases and is sometimes assigned to prepare a report for the court as to the future arrangements for the children where their parents cannot agree.” In essence, they make recommendations to the court in the child/ren’s best interests, which the parents may not always agree with. It is crucial to prepare for your CAFCASS interview; SCFL is well placed to help you anticipate the questions they may ask and help you to respond appropriately.
A CAFCASS officer cannot make any final decisions or rulings, however. They simply state their finding after assessing the children, parents and sometimes the wider family. Their investigations may involve speaking with the children’s school or health professionals in connection with concerns raised by either party. In addition, their roles include:
Safeguard and promote the welfare of children
Give advice to the family courts
Make provision for children to be represented
Provide information, advice and support to children and their families.
For more information: https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/about-cafcass.aspx
On the other hand, a judge is quite different. While you are likely familiar with the standard dictionary definition of a judge, you are probably not aware of the judge’s specific role and their interaction with the other professionals. When your case comes before a judge, it is most likely that either CAFCASS or your legal representatives have narrowed down most of the issues between you. If any issues remain unresolved the judge will hear both sides submissions, sometimes play the role of mediator, ask key questions of the parties or the advocates, then make an order based on the evidence provided. They have a wide discretion in family law, in relation to financial or Children Act matters, and some judges can take a completely different view to the same case. While their ruling is normally legally binding, there are circumstances in which an appeal maybe possible, or an order varied in certain circumstances.
Prepare the necessary court application forms and/or advise you on the types of order(s) you should be seeking.
Just about anybody can fill out an application form to the court, but the question is: has it been filled out completely and correctly? That’s the key part. Very often, many people will skip over sections they’re unsure of, or forget to include relevant information. It can be extremely frustrating if the courts constantly return your paperwork for you to complete again. We will help you along this process and ensure it is filled out accurately.
Additionally, you may be feeling lost not knowing which forms to fill out and which types of orders you should be seeking. As your professional McKenzie friend, we will point you in the right direction and select exactly what you need so that you are set to accomplish your goals in the family law legal system.
Accompany you to court to offer moral support and advice on points of law/act as intermediary with your opponent.
Sometimes it’s helpful to see a friendly, familiar face rooting for you as you venture through the court process. We will act as, essentially your “cheerleader”, offering you moral support throughout the court proceedings. On top of that, we will ensure you are doing the best job possible to increase your chance of the judge ruling in your favour. We will be there for you every step of the way, ensuring you are representing yourself in the best way possible.
During the early stages of separation many couples find it extremely difficult to be in the same room together. In this situation SCFL can act as the link between you and your former partner. Hopefully in time, relationships will improve but during the course of your dispute, we will be able to communicate any information and act as a neutral, calm point of contact for you without you having to talk to your opponent directly.
Prepare a letter of instruction for an expert.
In some court cases, the court may require that an expert assess a particular aspect of the case. In family court, this could mean they could use an estate agent to assess the total value of a property, or a child psychologist expert in complex Children Act cases (for example: parental alienation), or any other case when an expert would be needed that is beyond the legal realm.
The letter of instruction must be clear and concise and abide by the requirements set by the courts to ensure it complies with court protocol. We will help you prepare the perfect letter should an expert come into play. Instead of doing it yourself, SCFL will assist you every step of the way.
Help you to draft a witness statement in accordance with court protocol.
Witness statements are crucial in court proceedings. They can really bear some weight and add some “backing” to any claims. Witnesses from reliable, unbiased sources can be the difference between winning and losing. Because witness statements are so crucial, you must be entirely sure that the witness statement is in accordance with the court protocol.
The general layout of a witness statement is easy to produce and we will help you format it so that it is ready and presentable to the court. The following instructions are set out on https://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/standard-directions/general/witness-statements:
- Start with the name of the case and the claim number;
- State the full name and address of the witness;
- Set out the witness’s evidence clearly in numbered paragraphs on numbered pages;
- End with this paragraph: ‘I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true.’ and
- Be signed by the witness and dated.
Creating the “skin and bones” element is fairly simple to produce, but a trusted McKenzie Friend will help you take your witness statement to the next level. We will ensure that your statement covers all of the relevant information that will help you build your case, and leaves out any extra information that may prejudice your case. Our legal expertise in witness statements can really sway the final ruling in your favour.
Advise on and prepare trial bundles for use in court.
Many people underestimate the importance of gathering required paperwork and forms before a trial. It is often put off until the very last minute, or it may not even be done at all. In addition to proving the basics, we will help take your trial bundles to the next level by advising you on which forms you should include to build your case and which one to exclude.
There is a lot that goes into a trial bundle. You need to ensure that your bundle is prepared in accordance with Family Procedure Rules as some judges can potentially impose harsh penalties if the trial bundle breaches court protocol. You definitely don’t want the judge to be flipping through your trial bundle wasting time trying to find written paperwork because it isn’t properly made or organised. Essentially trial bundles serve four functions:
- To provide a “sneak peak” at all of the pieces of paperwork that will be referred to during trial
- To allow the judge time to read over the documents before the trial
- To ensure that the trial is smooth and minimal time is wasted
- To provide somebody representing you with all relevant information
According to the Law Gazette, in the case of trial bundles, “A good bundle cannot win a bad case, but a bad bundle can damage a good case”. Additionally, you want to ensure that your trial bundle is not overly loaded with irrelevant information. You have to ask yourself ‘if I were going to represent myself and had no background knowledge of the case, what are the need-to-know facts that would assist me?’. McKenzie friends can help you sure you check off all of the required boxes from the list of requirements and put together an excellent bundle.
Research case law and prepare a skeleton argument/position statement on your behalf.
It’s always wise to go into your court proceedings as best prepared as possible. One of the best ways you can prepare yourself is by using a McKenzie Friend consultation in order to research case law and establish a position according to a former ruling. That’s where we come in. We will help you track down a similar case to see how the courts ruled. This will help us determine if it’s truly worth it for you to pursue the case and proceed with a court hearing. If there is a similar case that was ruled in favour of someone in a similar position for you, it is most likely your best option to go forward and pursue your case
Additionally, we will create an outline for you to follow and really analyse all the important key details of the case that will work in your favour during the court proceedings. We will create an outline and help you define your position firmly so that your case looks as strong as possible when being presented to the judge.
The “skeleton argument” is what clearly defines why you have taken your current position, and what facts there are that help define why that position is just. It’s important that it covers all the major details (the “bones”), but leaves out any irrelevant pieces of information that could bog down your case (the “skin”).
If you need to come up with the skeleton argument, we will provide you with the best possible assistance possible. As a general rule of thumb there are six portions to the skeleton argument:
- The introduction, which has a clear statement of purpose and gets straight to the point
- Clearly defined issues that define why you’ve taken your stance
- The fact section, which sticks to the essential information and leaves out anything that is irrelevant and can slow down the court procedure. It’s crucial to be specific and concise.
- Citing similar court cases and the law. I will research and provide the most appropriate legal authorities from landmark cases at the highest levels of court to support your argument.
- Make your point. Now, this is where you tie everything together and explain thoroughly why the judge should rule in your favour. What do the previous court cases and facts prove? Why are you right?
- Define what you are looking for. What do you want the judge to rule? Don’t make them ask; you’ve got to be clear and make a claim.
The skeleton argument really guides your argument and sets what your position is in stone. You want to take a strong stance and clearly define where you stand on this case. Be clear and concise. You have to state what you want and why it’s justified that you get what you want in the clearest way possible. It’s much easier said than done, but fortunately we will be there with you during the skeleton argument drafting process.
Help you to instruct a competent barrister if appropriate.
If needed, we will refer you to a highly competent and experienced barrister in the event that you need to pursue your case to the higher levels of the courts. While our approach is to always solve problems at the lower levels, which saves money and time, we will gladly help you with selecting and instructing a competent barrister if the situation presents itself.
Barristers differ slightly from solicitors in that they actually carry out the trial work and actively speak in the courts on your behalf. They can vary enormously in terms of their experience and approach. While some barristers are committed to resolving your dispute through negotiation and compromise, others are more aggressive and favour the cross-examination approach. Strategic differences aside, they act as your advocate and present your case to the judge as persuasively as possible. That is why it is so crucial that they are instructed thoroughly and know all the important details of your case.
It’s important to find a McKenzie friend that can help communicate all of the important details to the barrister so that they are fully up to speed on the case and able to represent you with the utmost skill and care.
Draft consent orders, and associated court forms, in financial proceedings.
Consent orders can be a little tricky to draft if you’re not using a qualified, professional McKenzie friend. They are incredibly important and must be specific as possible in order to prevent any “loopholes” or ways to work around the contract. A poorly drafted consent order can really backfire on you.
What is a consent order? Essentially, a consent order is a financial marital agreement that is drafted by the parties or their representatives, then submitted to the judge for approval. It can be used, and is often used, when trying to address and plan out who gets what in matrimonial finances. Expert advice should be sought and the background work carried out. Default provisions should be included for certain clauses to avoid the need to go back to court to implement or vary/enforce the order. More often than not, consent orders are legally binding but there are circumstances in which part or all of the order may be set aside (waived) if correct procedure has not been followed.
Explain the purpose of, and prepare on your behalf, a separation agreement for financial aspects.
For a variety of reasons, not all couples will want to start divorce proceedings immediately after separation, but they may want to formalise their arrangements for their children or financial aspects of their divorce. Separation agreements are not legally binding in the same way that consent orders are, but a McKenzie Friend can draft a separation agreement which is likely to be upheld by the court so long as correct procedure is followed and both parties have sound, independent legal advice. The most common issues to resolve by way of a separation agreement are as follows:
- Child Support
- Division of Property
- Pension Plans
- Spousal Support
- School fees
- Child trust funds
- Responsibility for debts
Drafting a separation agreement requires a high level of expertise. It must not breach public policy and should be prepared using the same principles which apply to financial consent orders, as far as is possible. It sets out your financial agreement upon separation and can record how any dispute will be resolved in the future.
Whilst child maintenance can be incorporated into a separation agreement, if this part of the agreement should break down, it is usually the Child Maintenance Service who would have jurisdiction to intervene, not the court.
Prepare a Will on your behalf.
It is very common in divorce or separation proceedings for either party to immediately decide to change their will.
There are many points to consider before changing or making a will and there are numerous cases there a will has failed due to the lack of legal expertise in will drafting. For example, solicitors will take a detailed family tree and comprehensive list of assets and liabilities. They will raise the following points with you, where appropriate, and ensure that your will is watertight:
- How do you own your property? (Many people do not know the answer to this question)
- Do you need to sever your joint tenancy
- Inheritance act claim
- Executors and trustees
- Appointment of guardian
- Complex trust provisions for a disabled child
- How to protect your beneficiaries’ legacies from the following risks (care home fees/bankruptcy/divorce)
It is important to ensure that the will is correctly signed and witnessed, just a simple error can render a will invalid.
Solicitors normally charge in the region of £200 + VAT for a straightforward Will or at least £400 + VAT for a more complex will. SCFL has minimal overheads and can prepare a straightforward Will for £50 or a complex will for £100 (no VAT).
Advise on and issue enforcement proceedings if appropriate.
There are occasions when enforcement proceedings are essential (whether these relate to either financial or Children Act Orders). However, there are circumstance when enforcement applications are seen as frivolous by the courts. McKenzie Friends can advise you on whether it is appropriate to issue enforcement proceedings or discuss alternatives with you.
Advise on, and effect a Notice of Severance of joint tenancy for a property, so that your respective shares pass under the terms of your Wills rather than to your ex-spouse/partner.
Briefly discussed under the heading of Wills, a Notice of Severance for a property may be necessary even if you decide not to make or change your Will at this stage. It is a complex process which solicitors may charge several hundred pounds for this service but SCFL can advice you on the pros and cons of effecting a Notice of Severance, help you overcome common obstacles and deal with this on your behalf for £30 – £50.
Domestic violence – I can issue emergency proceedings, prepare statements, defend an application and come along to court with you (if local to south Gloucestershire).
Last, but definitely not least: Domestic Violence. As it’s said, our philosophy here at South Cotswold is to fight for you on your behalf in a respectful manner. However, we particularly take cases of domestic violence and cases involving children seriously. As the “approach” section says on our site:
Particularly where there are children involved, my ethos is to be polite, respectful and as friendly as possible, even when liaising with client’s former spouses. That is not to say that I cannot “fight your corner” but a hostile approach is counterproductive in my experience.
My approach is completely objective and anti-discriminatory in that I recognise both men and women may be victims of domestic abuse, but may not always qualify for legal aid. It is crucial to get the right advice and consider alternative outcomes, submit the appropriate evidence and get your statement drafted professionally. I can potentially help you to achieve the same outcome as a solicitor or barrister, but at a much lower rate due to lower overheads.
It is possible that I may be able to address the judge/other side on your behalf but I would need to apply for permission from the judge first.
If you are located in the South Gloucestershire area or surrounding areas, I may be able to come to court with you. If not, I may be able to recommend someone who can assist you at a reasonable hourly or fixed rate.
Alternatively, if you are comfortable attending court by yourself, of if you live far from the South Gloucestershire area, I am able to help you remotely. With remote communications, I am still able to advise you in connection with your statement and ensure that this is as robust as possible in order to secure injunctive relief or defend injunction proceedings. Again, I can also help you to ensure that court protocol is followed as this can be a difficult burden on top of the incredibly painful situation you are experiencing.
Society of Professional McKenzie Friends
Resolution First for Family Law
Central Law Training