Going to court – Public Access Barristers and McKenzie Friends

It’s never easy, but the better prepared you are, the better your outcome is likely to be. You need to be clear and focused on what you want (or will accept), from the hearing.

The better informed you are about court procedure and what to expect in the court room the more confident you will feel.

It’s usually best to take someone with you to a court hearing (even though they will not be able to go into the court room with you). This is because you may have to wait around a long time and if you have a barrister they will spend a lot of the time talking to your ex’s lawyer. You don’t want to be sitting alone, or facing your ex across the waiting room, and it really helps to have someone with you to talk through any proposals with – particularly at a final hearing.

I can help you prepare for your hearing so that, even if you’re nervous, you’ll still be able to stay focused on your outcome.

Also called public access barristers.

In the past, barristers could only be instructed by a solicitor – rather like you have to be referred by your GP to see a hospital consultant. But barristers are now able to take cases direct from a client who does not have a solicitor, which reduces the cost considerably.

I help clients to find the best barrister for their particular case and budget. I then do as much or as little of the work that a solicitor would normally do to make the process run as smoothly as possible.

If you can afford a barrister, I would always recommend you be represented in a financial case as there are plenty of procedural traps to catch you out along the way. However, although it can be upsetting when you get something wrong, it’s rarely that detrimental to your case and we can find ways around it. So don’t worry if you can’t afford a barrister for every hearing, although if it goes as far as a final hearing it’s definitely best to be represented: you’ll find it hard, though not impossible, to cross-examine your ex yourself. I can help you prepare questions but it will be down to you to deliver them, and respond to them, on the day.

Court hearings about your children are a different matter. Financial cases are all about hard figures so it’s all down on paper in black and white – even if one person’s black is very different to the other persons! Children cases are much more about what has happened and how it has affected your children and what’s best for them in the future. And usually quite a lot has happened; but a loving parent will remember every last detail and be able to respond immediately and accurately to a judge who asks a question. But, even if you’ve told your barrister that particular fact they may not remember it when put on the spot, or they may never have known it, so their answer to the judge will be less than satisfactory. And sometimes they say things you really wish they hadn’t.

Please read the section (under Legal Stuff) about the problems in our family courts. Many barristers are part of this problem and when representing the victim of a narcissist they may take the ex’s side and serve their client very badly.

If you can find, and afford, the right barrister from the very beginning of your case this will give you the best chance of success. But if you can’t, please don’t worry about it, you may well do a much better job yourself. And you may want or need a barrister for some hearings and not for others. If you’re not represented I would highly recommend that you have a McKenzie Friend with you.

A McKenzie Friend is someone who goes into the court room to help you, but cannot represent or speak for you. There are different types of McKenzie Friends:

  • family members, or friends, who provide moral support in court and do not charge a fee
  • voluntary helpers attached to institutions or charities, who generally do not charge for their help
  • fee-charging McKenzie Friends, who offer support with court proceedings

If you can afford to pay a McKenzie Friend the advantage is that they have some experience of court hearings, even though they are not usually qualified lawyers. They will understand the procedure and legal jargon better than you will if it’s your first time going through family court proceedings.

If you can’t afford a ‘professional’ McKenzie Friend, do try to take a friend or family member into court with you. The difficulty in family proceedings is that your ex may well know them, and object to them being in the court room. So if you can find someone who they don’t know, or don’t know well, that can be a better option.

Two heads are always better than one and a lot will be said in a courtroom in a very short time, so someone who can write fast is always an advantage. As well as taking notes for you, your McKenzie Friend can also whisper to you (or write a note) to prompt you with something you need to say or ask, and they can help find documents in your file(s).

I can recommend or help you find a McKenzie Friend for your court hearings and make sure they have all the relevant information.

Divorce Consultant Diana Jordan

You might also be interested in reading the ‘Legal Structure of Divorce’ a two-minute guide to divorce proceedings.

A Better Way of Dealing with Divorce: book