Since last year, I have worked as a Floating Support Officer, offering general needs support to vulnerable adults and their families. Whilst in this role, I encountered a number of women who experienced domestic abuse, which sometimes involved physical violence, coercive behaviour, and emotional and financial abuse.
Many of these women expressed feelings of helplessness, as they did not know how to deal with their situation. Furthermore, a lot of these women could not afford a solicitor, and they didn’t qualify for legal aid. This often put them at a disadvantage, as they had to represent themselves in court, and they lacked the basic legal knowledge of their case and the court system.
Therefore, I offered them emotional support, referred them on to specialist agencies for legal advice, and attended court cases and various other meetings (e.g. social services case conferences that related to the case).
It wasn’t until I attended a training awareness course on non-molestation and occupation orders that I first heard the term ‘McKenzie Friend’. During this time, I was going through a personal situation whereby I had to seek a non-molestation and occupation order against an ex-partner. I had no legal representation because I couldn’t afford a solicitor and I was not eligible for legal aid. Therefore, I had no choice but to represent myself throughout the duration of the court case.
In contrast, my ex-partner had enlisted the help of a solicitor and a barrister during the course of our legal battle, costing in the region of £10,000. Consequently, despite my ex-partner having this expert legal advice and representation, I won my case. This experience gave me the idea of becoming a McKenzie Friend.
Following on from that initial legal battle, my ex-partner took me back to court for access to our children. Again, I was faced with having to represent myself as a ‘Litigant in Person’. However, on this occasion I decided to use the services of a McKenzie Friend to assist me in negotiating child contact arrangements through the process of mediation. As a result, a compromise was reached which was acceptable to the court.
To be honest, I had mixed feelings about using a McKenzie Friend. As a general rule, I would advise the McKenzie Friend service to anyone that cannot afford legal representation during a family law matter. Similarly, like many solicitors and barristers, there are good and bad McKenzie Friends. It’s important that you carefully select the right person.
Enquire about their experience of the family law court system. Ask if they are familiar with the processes and a procedure of social services, in particular the role of CAFCASS in facilitating child contact arrangements. Primarily, be sure that your McKenzie Friend fully understands your situation, and that they are willing to help you reach the best possible outcome within the parameters of the law. Ultimately, any legal decision will rest upon the judge presiding over the case, and that decision will be based on the evidence provided, witness statements, and the legislation pertaining to the law.
Finally, too add to my credentials I have a long history of working within the local communities in developing community initiatives, as well as in the housing profession and the field of equality and diversity.