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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

How not to represent yourself in a divorce case

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Litigants in person in divorce.

Whilst it’s not surprising that emotions can run high in divorce proceedings (we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t get upset about the breakdown of our marriage) there is a limit to what behaviour is acceptable. A recent case in the High Court (Veluppillai v Veluppillai) has highlighted the best way to NOT get the sympathy of a family law Judge. The husband’s behaviour in this case went way beyond what was acceptable, and resulted in the court making a costs order for £146,609 against him.

Veluppillai v Veluppillai was a lengthy divorce case which commenced in 2012 with the husband choosing to represent himself in court as a litigant in person. Reading the case notes it seems like it was doomed from day one with the husband initially trying to avoid the final court hearing by filing what was dubbed very dubious medical evidence from a GP in Hungary.

The case records that the husband had been removed from the court room on at least one occasion by security staff, he had been repeatedly warned by judges about his unpleasant, menacing conduct in court and on one occasion assaulted his wife’s barrister and his wife in court for which he was convicted of assault at the magistrates’ court. He skipped his sentencing hearing and fled abroad to Hungary from where he sent various abusive emails.

In spite of the courts best efforts, offering him the opportunity to attend the court hearing by way of telephone or video conferencing so that he could be represented, he refused to cooperate.

The rise in litigants in person

Since legal aid was withdrawn for the majority of family law cases in April 2013 we have seen many more litigants in person, luckily not all as badly behaved as the one in this case. Cuts affecting the court system as part of the austerity measures mean there are fewer court staff and some courts around the country have been closed as part of efforts to consolidate and streamline the service. These changes put pressure on the court system and mean that there are fewer people available to help people who represent themselves in divorce cases.

Tips for litigants in person

If you do want to act as a litigant in person the first thing to do is always try and get some pointers and advice about your case to check that you are approaching the case in the right way. An experienced family solicitor will discuss your options before you take any legal action. Whilst you may not feel able to afford a solicitor or barrister to provide a full legal service and represent you in court you may find that for fairly modest fees you can receive quality advice that will help you to manage the case more effectively yourself.

When you do get to court be respectful to the court officers, your opponent and all others involved. The judge is the person who could be deciding whether you get to keep your house or see your children. So don’t give them any reason to find against you.

Prepare really well before you attend any court hearings. Having all the documents in chronological order can make a big difference. Don’t turn up at court with a carrier bag full of paperwork and expect the court to wait 20 minutes for you to find the document you need. All of the court staff are pushed for time and won’t look favorably on someone who appears not to respect this.

The most important piece of advice is to find out what your options are before you commence legal proceedings in the first place. If nothing else take advantage of a free half-hour chat to discuss the case before taking any further action. Sometimes following this basic advice can keep the case out of court and allow you to reach an amicable agreement with your ex.

Ian Giddings
Divorce & family law solicitor, Coventry

Comments

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It’s unfortunate that there is even a need to explain large parts of this - in reality most of the text just appears to be behavioural common sense - I often forget that common sense is not, in fact, the norm, but unfortunately the exception.
However it is most definitely worth pointing out the rise in self-representation (a notable occurrence during recession), and the drop in staffing levels, and help available (people forget just how far the effects of austerity reach).

By Adam Hasan on Tuesday November 17, 2015

The greatest cause of these problems Adam is the lack of legal aid, for what are often very deserving cases.  The court is faced with complex legal issues being conducted by litigants in person who have little in the way of legal knowledge and are often emotionally embroiled in the case.  This means the court has to appoint extra time to hear, and often explain the case which means simple cases are taking up excessive court time.  It’s telling that there are courts in the South East who have made savings on limiting their opening hours and by using call centres but have then had to spend more on additional security staff.

By Ian Giddings on Wednesday November 18, 2015

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