In 2012, my long marriage came to an end and I was faced with the challenge of trying to figure out how I wanted my future to look like and how I could get through this difficult time of life.
Despite researching for information on the internet, I struggled to gather reliable information of how disputes between parents on how childcare arrangements or separating financially might be dealt with by a court.
I found plenty of people online with negative perspectives and experiences but was determined not to become one of them. Without a doubt, a defining moment was suddenly being served with a court summons at my workplace to attend a short-notice court hearing requesting a judge to remove me from my jointly owned family home.
Little did I know then how much I would be able to turn that potentially “negative” moment into a “positive”.
As I knew of no alternative options at the time, a rash decision was made to employ a barrister (who’s fees I could not really afford) for the hearing in question.
Afterwards I reflected that I had simply paid someone a very high fee to say for me that “I disagreed with various aspects of the application”. I felt that this was something I could have done myself, if I had understood the process better and had support to decipher the legalese words used in court.
As someone with years of experience working with parents in a variety of professional roles, I felt disempowered and unclear about the process going forward. I took issue with the way that the barrister obscured matters with unfamiliar legal language and left me unclear as to the possible outcomes ahead.
After further research, I discovered a charity that helped fathers called “Families Need Fathers”. I was made aware of an alternative approach in the divorce process, that of resourcing the help of a “McKenzie Friend”. What on earth was that?
I discovered that a McKenzie Friend is a court defined term for someone who assists a litigant in person (someone who presents their own case in a court of law in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia).
The McKenzie Friend doesn’t represent you (as you might think a lawyer does) and cannot speak to the court on your behalf. You stand up and verbally present your own case with their support.
They can help you prepare for court emotionally and help you understand the process you are about to go through. They can take notes, quietly give advice in court and support you in important out of court negotiations with lawyers.
They do need not be legally trained or have any professional legal qualifications. This appealed to me because I knew I could communicate clearly but needed support preparing and would likely appreciate someone present with me on the day to support me to do so.
I discovered this right to a McKenzie Friend was established in a 1970 case involving two parents with the surname McKenzie. There is published guidance for courts to follow on the scope and limitations of the role of McKenzie Friends . Wikipedia offers the following information. “England and Wales allow fee charging McKenzie friends, who may charge for their services, including the giving of legal advice.
A recent report by the Legal Service Consumer Panel found that fee charging McKenzie friends were a net benefit. The report stated, “They should be viewed as providing valuable support that improves access to justice in the large majority of cases.”
I decided then to go DIY and do my divorce myself with the support of a McKenzie Friend. I was successful in opposing the application and navigated through courts to achieve a shared residence order and positive financial settlement as a litigant in person.
Following this successful outcome, I felt there was a lot of skills from my working background that would help other people going through divorce in family courts but who did not have the budget for lawyers. I have now worked as as a McKenzie Friend for 5 years.
Some people going through a divorce may be unfortunate enough to find themselves restricted or denied access to their children after leaving the family home. Some may become locked in conflict about how to split joint financial assets. Some may find themselves responding to non-molestation or occupation order applications.
Based on the feedback of my clients, I have identified that they are at least 10 ways in which a McKenzie Friend helps a litigant in person to present their own case in a childcare arrangements or divorce finance cases. They are:
- Emotional support throughout the court process
- Help to understand how family courts work
- Supporting the development of a positive mindset
- Providing impartial analysis of how their case may develop
- Helpings them develop and articulate their short and long term aims
- Reviewing their documents and offering feedback to consider
- Assisting them to understand legalese
- Helping them in their negotiations with lawyers
- Taking notes and supporting them to stay calm and focussed on what the court is interested in
- Helping them respond to fast moving court processes.
This information was not available to me at that time and I hope that this article may help others realise they are alternative ways to go through their divorce.
About Graham Fletcher
I think the best way to get to know more about me is to read what my clients say about me in their 130 + reviews (click the links below)
Prior to working as a McKenzie Friend I worked for over 15 years as a Youth Mentor, Music Project co-ordinator, Youth Worker, Voluntary Project co-ordinator and Special needs play-worker
I have personal experience of successfully navigating the divorce process without paying a solicitor during my own divorce in 2012. This was a challenging time of life. Like many people, I had no idea of how to go about the divorce process and could not afford expensive solicitor fees. Without any formal legal qualification, I found myself in a situation where I had to very quickly educate myself in understanding how family courts worked.
I was successful in getting an occupation order and non-molestation order application dismissed and a shared residence order made in relation to my 2 children. I did so with the support of a McKenzie Friend.