Written by Carl Broad
Long ago I was asked to help a friend who unfortunately found himself in court trying to agree finances following the breakdown of the marriage after 20 years.
This guy who I’ll call Bob knew I spent time on Wikivorce answering questions, given Bob is a contractor and at the time was out of work, he saw it as the perfect solution given he was under pressure from his wife`s solicitor and knew little if anything about the process and law, I explained what a McKenzie friend could and more importantly could not do in court, which left him a little deflated to say the least.
So we started the paperwork, the dreaded form E, lots of letters to his wife’s solicitor, all the usual, but I thought right from the start that his wife’s heart was not in this, as it happens she was under pressure from both her parents and her new partner. We did ask if we could all meet and talk; a round table meeting if you will, sadly it was refused. I was still hopeful this could end fairly swiftly though given Bob was offering a mortgage free valuable house! The sticking point was Spousal Maintenance, you see Bob when working can easily earn £10k per month tax free, but it tends to be a feast and a famine, it tends to be the way with off shore workers, his wife on the other hand rarely worked or if she did it was part time and more for social reasons than any real need.
So the day of the FDR arrived which is usually the second court appointment (Financial Dispute Resolution hearing) we were suited and booted as you should be for court. I offered the guard the usual pie (it is after all my local court and he now expects my traditional peace offering if he is on the court steps) Bob looked on almost in shock as he ate and we exchanged pleasantries. Then it was the magic wand time, I had all metal in the tray in double quick time so I could help Bob undress, tie pin out, cuff links off, watch, keys, belt, the list goes on ……….. Bob, bless him, was standing arms outstretched as if being searched by the police. Then to the grim waiting room; telly on the wall seats against the walls and lots of people staring at their shoes trying not to make eye contact, at one end of the room we saw his wife with her parents and her solicitor, a quick wave and a friendly hello, Bob and I and we walked over. ‘All going well, so far’ I thought - wrong.
Mr solicitor shot up as if he were sat on a pin stood in front of us and demanded we identify ourselves, and we did, we offered our hand as you would. Once he realised I was acting as McKenzie Friend he shot out mumbling “Oh no you’re not................” “Shall we have a little chat outside the room when your solicitor gets back?” I asked Bob’s wife, she just nodded. Mr by-now-angry-looking solicitor walked back in warning me not to speak in chambers bla bla bla, so the chat began. It was obvious both Bob and his wife had no fight in them, neither really spoke, so it ended with Mr solicitor and I having a fairly heated discussion, the outcome was what was offered by Bob right from the start, Jan to get 100% of the proceeds of sale, Bob to keep a modest pension and a clean break, the solicitor spoke with the judge and was told to prepare the order to be sealed, and it was done.
It’s a boring old tale but then court often can be a none event, plus I don`t like drama, I suppose if anything can be learned it’s that when others get involved it can become messy, messy means stress and often large legal costs.
Carl Broad has acted as a McKenzie Friend making 15 Court appearances including Directions Hearings
McKenzie Friend facts and information:
You are entitled to apply in advance to the Court to have a MF present , but as ever, it is at the Judge's discretion.
You cannot use a family member, someone you are in a relationship with, or someone who is party to or has an interest in the proceedings.
It’s also a good idea for the person you wish to have act as a MF for you to prepare a short "CV" for the Judge to read. The main things to state in it are that the MF is not party to proceedings, that they understand they are bound by the rules of confidentiality and they understand the McKenzie Friends Practice Guidance (see link below)