What exactly is a “McKenzie Friend”? When might you need one, and how can they help you?
This article will explain what a McKenzie Friend is, how the term came about, and how one of our experienced, professional McKenzie Friends can help you when you have to represent yourself in a family court hearing – all for much less than you might expect.
What is a McKenzie Friend?
A McKenzie Friend is someone who gives support to a litigant-in-person – that is, someone who is conducting their own case in court and is not represented by a solicitor.
- Provide moral support to the litigant.
- Take notes for the litigant.
- Help with papers relating to the case.
- Discretely give advice on points of law, issues that the litigant might want to raise in court, or questions the litigant might want to ask witnesses.
McKenzie Friends are not solicitors. They cannot speak in court on your behalf or ask witnesses questions.
The name comes from a divorce case in 1970. Mr McKenzie could no longer afford his solicitor’s fees to represent him, so instead they arranged for an Australian solicitor, who was not qualified to speak in a UK court, to help and support him in court. The judge refused to allow this, the case went against Mr McKenzie and he appealed, saying the judge was wrong to refuse to allow this assistance. He won this appeal.
This established that a litigant-in-person, not legally represented, is entitled to reasonable assistance in court so they can present their case themselves.
Who can be a McKenzie Friend?
Absolutely anyone, who is not involved in the case, can be a McKenzie Friend. They do not need any qualifications at all. So, you could ask a friend, or neighbour, or someone you trust very well, to be your McKenzie Friend in court. However, they might be very helpful in giving you moral support and taking notes, but a McKenzie Friend who knows court processes and proceedings will be more helpful in quietly advising you about aspects of the law relevant to your case and what you should or shouldn’t say in court.
McKenzie Friends might not charge anything – for example, if it is someone you know helping you out as a favour. McKenzie Friends who have more knowledge and experience of the law – like those from Family Law Decisions – often make a small charge for their services. However, this will be much more affordable than a solicitor would charge to fully handle your case and represent you in court.
The knowledge of the court process and law that a paid McKenzie Friend can offer you is often invaluable to a litigant-in-person.
Case study: Mark P and child arrangements
After my relationship with my ex broke down, she wouldn’t let me see our son. I was totally desperate. I thought, I’ll have to go to court or I’ll never see my son again. I checked with a local solicitor, but they were going to charge thousands. There’s no way I could afford that on my wages. But I found out about McKenzie Friends at Family Law Decisions and had a free initial consultation. They were brilliant. They explained that I had to try mediation first. They put me in touch with a Direct Mediation Services so I could do a MIAM. But as I expected, my ex wouldn’t cooperate.
The mediation company gave me a certificate to prove that I had tried mediation, then Family Law Decisions helped me with all the paperwork to start a court case. They explained everything to me clearly and suggested what supporting evidence I could bring to court to persuade the judge that my son would be safe with me. Family Law Decisions even helped me during the court hearing, giving me suggestions of what to say and making sure I had the right documents in front of me. It was all quite scary, but they made me feel so confident. The result: the judge signed an order letting me see my son on a regular basis. It’s great seeing my son, and I’m so grateful to Family Law Decisions for their help.
When you have no alternative but to go to the family court, many people find that it is just too expensive to ask a solicitor to represent them in court. But having to persuade a judge in court is a daunting prospect for most people. McKenzie Friends from Family Law Decisions are a low-cost alternative to a solicitor. We charge a transparent fixed fee for our experience and knowledge of the court process, depending on what you need from us.
Talk to one of our friendly and experienced McKenzie Friends – Family Law Decisions to find out how we can help you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a McKenzie Friend?
A McKenzie Friend is anyone other than a solicitor who gives you support in court, helping you with documents, discretely prompting you when needed, taking notes, and quietly giving advice to you. Some people who act as your McKenzie Friend will not charge you, others who have more experience with the court process and the law might make a low charge for their services. This will be much less than a solicitor would charge to fully represent you in court.
Do I have to use a solicitor in a family court hearing?
No, you can represent yourself in court as a litigant-in-person. But presenting your case in court can be a very daunting prospect for people not used to how courts work. It can be very helpful to have someone at your side – a McKenzie Friend – to give you support.
How much does a McKenzie Friend cost?
Family Law Decisions offer our services on a transparent fixed fee basis, depending on how much you need from us. We offer a free initial telephone consultation and, for example, a single Children Act application form will cost just £110 + VAT to complete, and being with you at court hearings costs from £240 + VAT.
How is a McKenzie Friend different from a solicitor?
A solicitor has the right to speak in court, present your case and question witnesses. However, a McKenzie Friend does not have these rights. Although they may not speak directly to the court or directly represent you, they can discreetly suggest to you questions it might be a good idea for you to ask as you present your case yourself as a litigant-in-person. Although someone you know might be willing to act as your McKenzie Friend for free, they might not have enough knowledge of court processes and the law to give you the extra level of support that a McKenzie Friend from Family Law Decisions will be able to give you.
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