Family Courts Without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person

These are dark days for many of us financially speaking. And securing legal advice and representation when relationships break down is only going to become tougher – there are swingeing cuts to legal aid looming, and few people have money to spend on lawyers.

doors closed

doors closed - well, windows anyway

It’s tough enough dealing with relationship breakdown, and tougher still trying to navigate the family courts on your own, trying to make head or tail of the law and legal process without a lawyer to explain things to you. This post is to inform those of you who can’t afford a lawyer or can’t get legal aid that I am writing a book which will hopefully make things a little bit more comprehensible, a little bit easier. It’s not quite ready yet, but will be published in 2011 – you can pre-order the book via Amazon: Family Courts without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person.
In the meantime, there is still time to let me know what topics you would like to see this book cover, or to send me your own pointers or any resources that you found invaluable. You can do that by posting a comment to this entry.
And of course it would be remiss of me to end without thanking the Alexander Maxwell Law Scholarship Trust whose assistance has made this handbook possible, along with David Chaplin at Bath Publishing.

12 thoughts on “Family Courts Without a Lawyer: A Handbook for Litigants in Person

  1. About the Charter for Grandchildren.
    The Family Friendly Charter
    Children will benefit greatly from it?

    Our firm belief is that children should have two parents in their lives and grandparents as a close back up if the parents are not available.

    The reason for the Charter for Grandchildren is, for children’s grandparents to be recognised more in the lives of their grandchildren rather than forced adoption or go to strangers or into care where it is well known that children in this situation become non achievers and usually end up joining gangs for that family belonging that they were robbed of.

    The Charter for Grandchildren was created by a Scottish Labour Government with our input and other interested groups. It was created as advisory with no bite to it and has been completely ignored by the professionals working in the welfare of children. Every day we hear of grandchildren cut of from the stability of their grandparents love and protection.

    Glasgow City Chambers, with cross party support voted to accept the Charter for Grandchild on 18th February 2010 as mandatory for professionals working in the welfare of children or an explanation for not recognising the role grandparents can play in their children’s lives. The Full Council gave Grandparents Apart UK a standing ovation for their work in this field.

    There is much enthusiasm for helping our grandchildren benefit from the role grandparents can play in their lives and a multitude of case histories and petitions has been gathered in the past ten years.
    The Glasgow social services have said it is acknowledged already. The government created a Charter for Grandchildren because it was pointed out to them that the said coverage for children was not standing out enough to be recognised and adhered to by professionals.

    By there action and expense in creating the Charter for Grandchildren is admission enough of the need for it to monitor professionals on how they focus on the best interests of our children rather than their own.

    It is well recognised with social services policies their focus is not what is best for children but what is cheapest and quickest for them. This is false economy for the future when children that are not treated properly turn out to be non-achievers disruptive citizens and turn to gangs and crime which is terrifying our older people to be afraid to open their doors or go out at night. The cost of this far exceeds the cost of doing the job right from the foundations.

    Jimmy Deuchars
    Grandparents Apart UK
    22 Alness crescent
    Glasgow G52 1PJ
    0141 882 5658

  2. I have been denied any contact or responsibilities to my daughter for all of her 12years. My job has purely to be a sperm donor and a financial conduit for the legal profession. I have been at court for 12years! I have never had a court decision were the sheriff or sheriff principal has given reference to their decisions, as there is no supporting evidence. Having had decisions repealed at the Court Of Session, on this basis, I have still not had any recourse. The system denies me and my child a basic respect before during and after a court process which never abides by the key tenets and principals of law. The legal profession cannot even demonstrate compliance of family legislation. That being the case we, the fathers, cannot get a fair trial in respect of our children’s interests.

    If your writing a handbook are you going to mention that the mother has absolute veto even over the judges. Can you show compliance with respect to ECHR, the key tenets of scots law and the children act against the Family Law 2006. Please do. The government won’t. If you can’t demonstrate this then your book is nothing more than more bandages over truth, scrutiny and professional accountabilty.

    • I’m afraid the book doesn’t cover Scottish law, which is quite different from the law in England & Wales, but it will be a book for both fathers and mothers to use.

  3. I find your reply disengeniuos. As a legal professional you know I refer to the fact, whether in England, Scotland or indeed anywhere, a legal framework which denies a citizens their basic rights purely on gender is in direct violation of the ket principles and tenets of justice. Is your silence due to the billions this anathama creates for your profession. Where is our Atticus Finch. Who repeals illigitmacy from their statutes and then continues to treat one half of the child population and their parents as less, if not surplus, because their parent is male and thus treats them DIFFERENTLY. And after all that , the governments of Scotland and England and now YOU refuse to demonstrate compliance. If your so concerned demonstrate conpliance, then I might trust your intentions. Refer to Mr James Hood MP to see that your assertion about Scots Law and English Law are irrelevant and bemusing, if not evaisive. Please comment.

    • I’m sorry if you think I am being disingenuous. I am not trying to be. I agree that a legal framework that denies basic rights purely on gender is a direct violation of key principles and tenets of justice. Whether Scottish law is guilty of that I don’t know. What I do know is that many people find it very difficult to extract “justice” from the family courts, and there are particular ways in which different groups experience particular difficulty. For fathers very often it is an uphill struggle to secure contact, and whilst a refusal of contact is sometimes justified there are lots of cases where it is not. But it cuts both ways. There are cases where parents with legitimate concerns are bullied and harassed into agreeing contact against their better judgment, against a backdrop of violence and abuse. Non resident parents, be they mothers or fathers (as is more common) are often at a disadvantage by virtue of their status as the excluded parent and whilst I think the courts need urgently to get better at redressing that imbalance through better and more efficient procedure, I don’t think the problem lies fundamentally with the law – it is inherent in the fact that parents are living separately and (bar shared residence cases), the children will be living with one and not the other parent. Hopefully the book I am writing will be useful for both mothers and fathers who find themselves struggling to get a foothold.

  4. Interesting. But not quite as unique as the Amazon blurb claims!

    There are already some self-help books by lawyers (John Bolch, Celia Conrad). John’s is much what one would expect from the attitudes conveyed on his blog; Celia’s is more honest about the failings of the system, but assumes you have a lawyer to help you.

    Some of the fathers’ groups have produced guides (in e-book format) which obviously give a perspective from the other side of the divide and are based on strategies which have been tried and tested in the courts. I’m the author of one (and currently working on the 6th version), and it does include a brief chapter on Scottish law, because so many English fathers end up trying to re-establish contact with children who have been taken to Scotland.

    Perhaps it would be a consideration for the 2nd edition, Lucy?

    • Hi Nick,

      I’m sure there will be some overlap between my book and all the publications you mention – which all have something to offer – but I do think it will cover things from a different perspective to other books, and will contain material not found elsewhere. As you say, Celia’s book is written on the assumption you have a lawyer (mine assumes the opposite), whilst John’s covers divorce but not children (mine covers both).

      I will give some thought to the Scottish point – thank you. Can’t think about 2nd editions just yet – focusing on the first seems more sensible at present. 😉

      PS Let me know when your book is out and I will post a link on the blog

  5. Hi Lucy, the link is here:

    Unfortunately we have to make a charge, as you will appreciate, although I don’t get a penny. It comes from a very different perspective from yours, so I don’t think we will be treading on toes!

    Not surprisingly it began as a work aimed at fathers. I then became involved in more gender-neutral organisations (Phillippa’s Friends, for example) and tried to produce a version which would not make mothers feel excluded (which involved a section on public law). I’m afraid I found it rather a challenge, so the current (and forthcoming) versions make little pretence to be anything but the product of a father.

    It will be interesting to see how you deal with striking the appropriate balance.

    By the way, after 7.5 years of no contact whatsoever, I now have residence – no thanks to the courts of course – and am now trying to work out how to be a parent again.

    • Don’t worry about my toes. Hobnail boots as well as thick skin.

      You are right – it is tough to strike a balance without excluding or offending either fathers or mothers. Am constantly recalibrating – no doubt some will think I have got it wrong. I’m sure you and I will find a different balance but there’s room for more than one view.

      As to your own personal story – both wow and good luck.

      PS You’ve just made a sale! 😉

  6. The answer to this is probably ‘no’, but have you targeted any of your book specifically at trans-sexuals? They seem to have a unique set of problems in the family courts, and CAFCASS have been accused of discriminating against them.

    • The answer is probably a no – it is something I will probably have to deal with very superficially. But you are right, they do have a unique set of problems in the family courts, not least that most people working in the system come across trans-sexual litigants so rarely.

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