Helpful tips and advice on how to navigate family court, particularly when self representing.
Anyone who's been through the court process will know how unpredictable it can be and often how unfair it can be. There are some good and reasonable judges out there (shout out to Judge Judy!) but it often feels like they're outnumbered by the ones who prefer to make the "easy" decision so here are some tips that can help make it "easier" for the right decision to be made.
Keep everything child focused.
It's important when framing your argument that you make everything about the child. Your reason for being there in the first place needs to be for what's in the child's best interest. Of course on a basic level it's always best for a child to have access to two loving parents but also take the time to think about what you can offer the child(ren) and you absolutely must be a prominent figure in their life.
Generally speaking, the court aren't interested in what you want, they are interested in what is best for the child so avoid telling the court what you want. I.e. don't say "I want" and instead something along the lines of "it's in the best interests of our child that". Also, it's important to refer to the child(ren) as "our" and not "my" as this can come across as possessive and can be easily used against you.
Try not to be opinionated about the other parent (unless you can back it up with evidence) as the court will want to maintain a civil procedure. It's a highly emotive situation but name calling or point scoring will only work against you so try your best to avoid anything that could lead to a confrontation or that could make you look bitter or angry (even if you have good reason to be).
Cafcas, Social Services, Children Services and mental health teams are very rarely on your side and it may even feel like they're against you so always stay reserved when dealing with them and think about what you're saying before you say it. Stay polite, child focused and never make demands.
You want to present yourself as a concerned loving parent whom only wants what's best for their child(ren).
Maintain strict boundaries when communicating.
There's a high likelihood that the communication between yourself and the other parent will be brought up in court. This means that you need to set boundaries or yourself in how and when you communicate with the other parent.
It's always advisable to communicate as little as possible and only when necessary and always about the child(ren).
It's best to treat all communication, whether in person or over text or phone calls as if the judge is listening in or looking over your shoulder. So if you think whatever you are saying or writing would go down badly in court or may make you look bad then DON'T do it!
You want to portray yourself in the best way possible so do all that you can to avoid being emotive or being drawn into a confrontation. It's a lot easier said than done but you absolutely MUST keep communication to a minimum unless it's regarding the child and in a civil manner. If you become angry or engage in arguments, no matter how justified your feelings may be, it can work against you so it's important to set boundaries and stay disciplined.
The court will rely on the evidence that you have so the more you have, the stronger your case will be so it's important to document anything and everything you feel could be relevant.
It's recommended to keep a diary of all verbal communication i.e. phone calls and in person conversations. Include dates and times and any observations, particularly after handovers. Also keep a record of any communication you have had with your child(ren), note the days, times and for how long and make sure to note any concerning comments your child(ren) make. (Try not to encourage them to provide you with information as this can have a serious affect on their mental health, be the parent that listens but says nothing.)
Being in court can be very stressful and often upsetting so it is very useful to have a written record to refer to. It will help you remember important items you wish to use as evidence and will help you stay focused on your argument. It will also help you rebut any false information the other parent may try to give, if you have written record of the contrary.
If you fail to prepare then you prepare to fail. Keep that in mind and start documenting everything now if you haven't already.
Be the better parent.
I imagine if you're in this position and having to fight to see your child(ren) then you likely are the "better" parent however you need to demonstrate this to the court. Being the better parent means behaving in a mature and loving way and keeping your focus on the child(ren) at all times.
Remember your A through to F. Always try to be Accommodating, Broadminded, Compromising, Diligent, Educated and Forgiving.
Rise above any confrontation and keep your attention towards the child(ren).
This is arguably the hardest of all, particularly when going through one of the most painful forms of abuse anyone can go through; parental alienation.
Do whatever you can to take care of your mental health, whether that is taking up a hobby, listening to music, going out, playing video games, whatever it is you need to care of your own mental wellbeing as priority number one.
I know the pain can be unbearable but make sure to focus on the positives. If you've started the process then you're one step closer to getting what you want.
When I was dealing with being alienated I had therapy for around 6 months to deal with the emotional trauma and one tip I was given which really helped me was to write down at the end of each day 5 positives. These can and should be small things like nice weather or a nice meal as it's a way of retraining your mind to focus on the positives in life.
A negative outlook or attitude will always work against you in court and the court will sense it. Every aspect of you is under the microscope so make sure to put your best foot forward so that they see the best in you.
The above is just a baseline of advice to help you prepare for what's in store with family court. Read it, familiarise yourself with it and make sure you're as prepared as you can be for what may be a long road but hopefully will be a much shorter journey with the right mindset and preparation.
If you're looking for more in depth support and advice then it's always a good idea to join our online here on our website or even our facebook support group where our active community and admin team will be more than happy to help.
Thank you for reading and I hope that we can help you on your journey.