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What does a McKenzie Friend do?

Posted on 4th September, 2018

What on earth is a McKenzie Friend, you ask?  Well that’s a very good question as it’s certainly not self-explanatory - and in fact, that's something we're very often asked.


First the legal bit - the term ‘McKenzie Friend’ comes from an English divorce case (McKenzie v McKenzie [1971]) in which the husband wanted to use an Australian barrister to assist him in the proceedings.  The barrister’s Australian qualification didn't allow him to ‘represent’ Mr McKenzie in English proceedings, but the barrister planned to sit with Mr McKenzie, take notes and quietly give him advice during the proceedings. The judge said he could only sit in the public gallery and speak to Mr McKenzie during breaks in the proceedings, which the barrister felt was pointless, so he didn’t attend the second day of the hearing. The result of the hearing went against Mr McKenzie who then appealed on the basis that he had been denied the assistance of his barrister-friend.  The Court of Appeal ruled that the judge’s refusal had deprived Mr McKenzie of the assistance he was entitled to and so a re-trial was ordered.  And the term ‘McKenzie Friend’ stems from there.


So that’s the background.  But what does a McKenzie Friend actually do?


Well, a McKenzie Friend doesn’t have to be legally qualified, although Ethos Family Solutions’ Paula Tanner is a former family law solicitor (now non-practising) and so she has a extensive experience in all the legal aspects of family law.  Paula also takes a non-confrontational approach (don’t confuse this with non-assertive though!) and she is an Associate Member of Resolution – a national organisation of family lawyers who take a constructive approach to family law matters.



A McKenzie Friend can assist you to deal with your divorce, separation or any aspect of the breakdown of your relationship.  If you are dealing with arrangements for your children, trying to negotiate a financial settlement with your ex, or if you have to go to court, a McKenzie Friend can help you. If you are a grandparent trying to see your grandchildren, we can assist.


We are not mediators, counsellors or therapists (although we are very experienced in dealing with people going through difficult and emotional times).


You don’t need to use a solicitor as well as a McKenzie Friend – although you can if you choose, and we are perfectly happy to work with your solicitor, for example preparing statements for you to keep the costs down. 


A McKenzie Friend can give you suggestions and advice about the best way forward for you in your circumstances.  Of course, the McKenzie Friend isn’t representing you, so he or she can’t tell you what to do and it is up to you in the long run if you take their advice.  But sometimes, having someone to point you in the right direction (and to come up with suggestions that have so far eluded you - understandably, as it’s such a personal situation for you) is so important when you’re dealing with such an emotional matter as a relationship breakdown.


Paula believes that court is very much a last resort when dealing with family matters, but ultimately that is where your case might end up.  If it does, Paula, as a McKenzie Friend, can assist you in planning for the hearing, preparing court bundles, preparing statements as and when required, working out what options you have, what proposals you might make, what rules you should be following etc, etc.  Paula can also attend court with you and take notes as well as quietly giving you advice as and when issues come up at the hearing.  And she’ll also give you a nudge and bring you back on track if you’re starting to say something that won’t help your case!


If you’re dealing with a divorce or have reached a financial agreement, Paula can help you by preparing the paperwork to get your divorce or to get the financial agreement drawn up into a consent order so that you are protected in the future.


Sometimes people come to see Paula before they’ve even separated to prepare themselves for what the future might hold.  This assists people in knowing what they’re dealing with, understanding what the options are and weighing up the implications of a separation. Knowing what the future might hold then gives people the confidence to make whatever decision they need to in relation to their family.


Paula has worked in the family law field for more than 15 years, working in practise in Swansea and then for a legal publisher based in Bristol/London, working on the legal publications used by solicitors and judges alike.  Whilst working for the publisher, Paula realised that a lot of reported cases now involved people representing themselves (known as ‘litigants in person’) and she realised how difficult it would be for the everyday person to navigate their way through the family law system if they couldn’t afford a solicitor to guide them – which more and more people no longer could due to the removal of legal aid in most family law cases.  So, she decided that she could help those people by setting up a McKenzie Friend business – and Ethos Family Solutions was born.


Ethos Family Solutions is based in South Wales, with offices in Swansea and Porthcawl, but we assist clients all over England and Wales and beyond – as long as your legal issue is in the jurisdiction of England and Wales, we can help.


We describe ourselves as ‘the affordable alternative to a solicitor’ – because that’s what we are.  We can help you with the legalities of applications, procedures, form-filling, statement preparation, working out what path to take etc, etc.  What we can’t do is ‘represent you’ and (usually) speak in court on your behalf.  However, if your case gets to the stage where you feel that you need someone to speak for you, we can help you find a suitable barrister who will have a fixed fee for the hearing.


The advantages of using Ethos Family Solutions as your McKenzie Friend include having the benefit of legal experience at an affordable price, as well as the empowerment of managing your own case and taking control of the destiny of your family, whilst having the support and guidance of a specialist.  We'd say that's definitely worth considering if you're experiencing, or are about to go through, a relationship breakdown. 


Do you need help with an issue arising from a divorce or separation?

Contact us

01792 420581



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