Self Representation and McKenzie Friend Course Notes
These notes were recorded from the Seminar arranged and funded by Jim Bagnall, at Remuera Bowling Club.
Although these notes are now quite old, legislation has been meddled with and changed, but some things just seem to stay the same?
Table of Contents
Representing Oneself in Court (and Assisting Others to do the same).
Reasons for representing oneself:
Real Life Strategy
Strengthen Your Life and Happiness
Prior to Hearing
Use of Legal Professional
Affidavit of Service
Approaching the Hearing
At the Hearing
Meeting with the Psychologist, so they can prepare report.
Prepare for the Hearing
Plan your Cross Examination
Mark (ex Chairman Men’s Centre North Shore)
Greg Howlett? from Fathering NZ
How to Successfully Present Your Case:
Why I believe everybody should represent themselves:
Kate Ideas for Self Representation
MY EXPERIENCE who??????
Representing Oneself in Court (and Assisting Others to do the same).
“A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. “
I . Ever self-interested, lawyers love to remind themselves and their colleagues of this saying. What it means is that a lawyer would be foolish to attempt to represent himself – regardless of how good a lawyer he may be, and therefore, how well qualified he may apparently be for the task – because of his or her personal involvement in the case.
2. It is well known and recognised among lawyers that emotional involvement is very detrimental to one’s:
a. judgement, particularly in the heat of the moment,
b. perspective on the issues as seen from a detached observer’s point of view (i.e. such as the judge would be expected to have.)
c. ability to think quickly and clearly, and
d. ability to speak calmly and authoritatively, especially at times of high stress.
3. At crucial times such as when in Court, the intensity of one’s feelings – of anger, frustration, hurt, injustice, etc can easily overwhelm a loving and caring father, and cause him to “lose his cool”, and possibly say something foolish, or act in an inappropriate manner. The worst place to make this mistake is, of course, in Court.
4. For these reasons, lawyers seldom represent themselves in Court, and prefer to engage a colleague to represent them. However, one should not be put off representing oneself for these reasons alone.
5. In particular, Lawyers have a number of additional reasons for pushing this point of view.
a. For a start, it promotes the belief among their clients, and the population in general, that being a lawyer is very difficult work, which therefore encourages you to engage their services, and further reinforces the idea that they actually earn and deserve to be paid the exorbitant sums they charge as fees.
b. Lawyers become very familiar with being lawyers, which is to say they become very familiar with representing somebody else, and presenting a case on behalf of someone else.
i. In other words, they enjoy the benefits of being quite detached from their cases. It becomes like second nature to them, and because of the fact that (in general) they get paid, regardless of whether they win or lose the case, it doesn’t actually matter that much to them if they lose.
ii. In fact, by the law of averages, if they are an average lawyer, they have to lose cases about half the time. Thus, they become quite accustomed to losing, but when faced with fighting one’s own case, that is a significant disadvantage.
c. When lawyers try to represent themselves, these two things tend to count against them in Court. In addition:
i. They are well aware of just how unpredictable, arbitrary and unreliable the whole Court process is. They know they could be cut off at the knees through no real fault of their own. This knowledge is particularly unnerving, and tends to increase their fear, further increasing the disadvantages to them. Therefore, because of their own personal involvement, having a detached colleague independently observing and directing the proceedings increases their chances of winning. This, of course, is one of the reasons that lawyers came to be in the first place – because it was to one’s advantage to have someone familiar with the process present one’s case before the King, than it was to try to do it oneself.
ii. They are very unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of the process. This role reversal adds to the chances that they will be unnerved. It could be likened to be an ambulance driver. They learn to stay cool and calm in emergency situations, tending to seriously injured and dying people on a day to day basis, remaining calm while racing to the scene and racing to hospital. Imagine the difference if they suddenly discover that the patient is their own wife or child. The emotional connection with that person seriously effects their ability to remain cool and calm.
6. The reasons that lawyers in general choose not to represent themselves should now be clearer. There are some valid arguments against representing oneself, but additional reasons that apply to lawyers in particular.
7. However, the role of McKenzie Friend is to help someone who is doing just that – representing themselves in Court. Why should anyone represent themself?
There are many reasons why one should consider representing oneself, and therefore why it is particularly valuable to learn to be a McKenzie Friend.
Reasons for being a McKenzie Friend:
1. Plain self-interest! You never know when you might need or want to represent yourself in Court! You may already know that you have to. Being someone’s McKenzie Friend is by far the easiest way to learn about the Court process, and to become familiar with it. It helps you to overcome your fear of the place, and helps you to feel more confident and “at home” in Court. These are very big advantages.
2. Having said that, being an inexperienced McKenzie Friend is not a big help to anyone representing themselves. Accordingly, it is important that you are able to help your friend in Court. Coming to a workshop such as this is a good idea. Ideally, a good McKenzie Friend should know as much or more about the process and procedure than the person representing themselves. The best ways to gain experience are as follows:
a. Go into hearings with people who already have McKenzie Friends, as a “support person”. You are there, ostensibly, to provide emotional support and encouragement. Most Family Court hearings should permit this, but the other side may object to your presence. It is far better if this is agreed (with the other side), in writing, before the hearing.
b. Take your own minor cases to Court. Get, and Defend Parking Tickets. These are great. This is how someone I know learnt in detail about the Court process. So far, he has taken one Parking Ticket case all the way to the Court of Appeal. The great advantage of taking such cases is that they fall under the Summary Proceedings Act, which falls under Criminal Proceedings. Thus, there are no Court fees applicable – no application or setting down fees and other Court charges. However, it doesn’t mean that Court costs will not be awarded against you. But, in the District Court (for Parking offences), that is only $30, and is virtually standard, seemingly even when you win! Alternatively, take something to the Disputes Tribunal, although this is by no means as good a training.
3. Some McKenzie Friends have been permitted to cross-examine witnesses. In fact, in one case I know of, two McKenzie Friends were permitted in Court (though only one did any cross-examination). The best way to get the chance is to prepare cross-examination questions, then have the person you are “Friending” advise the Judge of this, and that you have no had time to familiarize yourself with his questions and would like to have him ask them directly.
Reasons for representing oneself:
I. You may not have any choice – You may desperately want to fight the case, but can’t get Legal Aid, and can’t, or don’t want to pay a lawyer.
2. You may have a case that lawyers don’t want, and that they won’t fight hard for. This is not so uncommon (especially CYFS cases), but it doesn’t mean you can’t win, or at least can’t fight a very good fight, and cause them a lot of grief (which they generally fully deserve.)
3. You can be much more thorough than a lawyer at $250 per hour can. You won’t be willing to pay a lawyer to do hours of research or other work, but you can probably afford to do it yourself.
4. You will be so much more committed to your case than a lawyer ever will.
5. Your commitment will show in Court.
6. You can show the depth of your feelings for your child(ren). No lawyer can ever really do that, and your time (if any) in the Witness Box may not be the best time to do that.
7. You can show your true personality better (once you feel at home in the Court). If you have a dry sense of humour, or a good wit, use it. Most Judges like a bit of a laugh – but only when it’s appropriate – preferably at one’s own expense, for example. A lawyer cannot so easily do that. Making jokes of the other side is not a good look!
8. If you are good, calm, collected, reasonable in Court, and present yourself as intelligent, fair and reasonable, it is a form of evidence. It can seriously undermine wild false allegations against you.
9. Your belief in your case may well lead you to finding options and defences that a lawyer may not have thought of, or may not consider to have a chance, when in fact they do. This is what happened in my case, and now the Family Court doesn’t want to “have to” hear my case.
10. You will be much more inclined to think outside the box, and much more inclined to act outside of the “rules”.
11. You don’t have to come back before that same judge again next week or next month, so it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t like you because you forced him (against his inclination) to do what was right last time.
12. You can refuse to be heard by a particular judge. If you’re being led to the slaughter by a lawyer, that won’t be an option. Lawyers won’t step far out of line for you, and refusing a judge would be out of line for a lawyer.
13. Remember that lawyers are sworn officers of the Court. (In theory if not often in practice) their first obligation is to the Court, not their client. They can use this as an excuse for not taking certain actions they don’t like.
14. You have a much wider latitude when it comes to the Rules – you can’t be expected to know them as well as a lawyer. BUT, only use this ignorance when you really need to. You can get your case kicked out of Court on procedural issues – not filing on time, etc, so try to know and follow the Rules, but also use your position to your best advantage if you can.
15. Representing yourself “deprives” some scumbag lawyer of $200+ per hour for every hour you don’t use one. This means there is less work to go around, which puts pressure on the others to drop their charges etc. It also encourages lawyers to get out of Family Law, where they have absolutely no business to be in the first place. (Lawyers and the Legal System are entirely adversarial, which is entirely contrary to successful dispute resolution and on-going amicable relations with your ex- for the benefit of your children.)
16. You don’t have to kiss arses to advance your career – You aren’t looking to be respected by “the system” as a “safe bet” or someone who “follows the rules” so that you can be appointed as Counsel for the Child – a cushy sinecure, and another status position within the system.
17. You aren’t hoping to one day be a judge yourself, so it makes no difference to your career if you don’t toe the line.
The first thing anyone entering the NZ Courts as an “unrepresented” (as lawyers and the Courts like to think of it) or rather, as a self-represented litigant, is that you are entering hostile territory. It may not seem like that, but that’s because the whole process is in fact a charade. That is probably the first thing that anyone entering the “justice” system for the first time (or at any time) needs to know.
Becoming familiar with the nature of the “Game” (which is exactly what it is) is essential if you want to play the game. If you don’t know the rules, you’re likely to be caught out, or dismissed.
Finally, try to remember that it’s probably better to stay out of Court, but as with everything in life, there are always limits beyond which one should not go. If your ex- thinks she can “get you” by going to Court, it’s your duty to demonstrate how wrong she is, so that:
a. She never ever wants to do it again. (Showing her you can do it yourself, and not cost yourself a lot of money [and in spite of her being on Legal Aid] is a great way to discourage her from trying again.)
b. Word gets around among the women who encourage other women to play this bullshit game that it’s a loser and they shouldn’t do it anymore.
A final word of warning: Watch out for Costs being awarded against you. Try not to waste the Court’s time with excess detail etc, or fighting an unwinnable fight. The Courts are definitely showing signs of wanting to keep lay litigants out, and smashing us with costs is one way to do that. You may end up saving thousands on lawyer’s bills, only to lose it all on costs. Beware.
Don’t be vexatious – you may (will) end up paying.
Also, avoid attacking the system too much. It doesn’t like that, and WILL defend itself.. . BE PREPARED!
Finally: GOOD LUCK!
Self Representation Strategy, Facts and Goals are the major issues
Be aware of the three “positions” involved, self, other party and judge.
Facts should be the dominant issue.
Judge and lawyers will have difficulty understanding the facts, so present simply and clearly, to have impact.
Real Life Strategy
It is important that your objectives are realistic and workable in the real world. Circumstances change while you are waiting for a hearing, so make sure that you proposal is clear and workable and has flexibility to cope with the changes that occur in real life. The worst thing is to get what you asked for, but find then you don’t want it…..
Your legal statagy should lead to obtaining your real world objectives.
Strengthen Your Life and Happiness
A time of dispute may be draining on energy, time, money and good will. Make sure that you can complete, what you set in motion.
As well as your own resources, you may need help from family, friends, employer, so work hard to stay on good terms with anyone you may want help from.
Sometimes make an issue over a small point, sometimes let small points go by. Decide which by keeping in mind the effect on your goals, from most important to least important.
Be careful when quoting authorities. What is required to be an “authority”??????
Prior to Hearing
Sort out the facts and their relative importance.
Why are these important to these children and to your desired goal?
Give the other person a reasonable chance and time to sort any issues out. (Don’t just be a complainer.)
Help yourself, by helping the judge to understand the case.
Use of Legal Professional
Sort out your strategy for using a legal professional, right at the beginning of the case, well before any hearings or significant letters to the other party.
Lawyers are professionals at sorting the facts and knowing how to present them to the court with best effect.
They have the best knowledge of law and court process and how to design the best strategy to use the system.
Lawyer is independent of the people involved and has emotional detachment.
Lawyer should give you the best odds of obtaining your desired outcome, but at high cost eg $160 plus GST per hour
Lawyer through legal aid will give rather limited service.
[Suggestions from the floor, that lawyers tend to drag out proceedings and significantly increase overall legal costs and may not even give the best chance of obtaining your most desired outcome! UOF claims they get faster processing of cases through court and lower both sides legal costs.]
Manage your case yourself and use the lawyer only as your legal advisor, not as your representative in court. Not recommended by lawyers!
Lawyers are good at playing games and can obtain delays, if this is what you want.
Getting the other Party’s Lawyer to agree to accept service
Remember that the other party’s lawyer may only be acting for them on a limited range of issues, thus may refuse to accept service. If you ask them, will you accept service for papers on “this” issue, then they may agree to accept service. They may have to contact their client for this decision. With courtesy, you are more likely to get them to agree to accept service.
Think about what you want to say.
Think about how you want to say it.
Avoid perjorative statements.
Avoid being argumentative.
Try to avoid rationalising of any issues.
Try to avoid involving the children, if at all possible. Use other sources to obtain the same result through other sources.
Consider other people who could be a witness or affidavit signer? What do they actually know of this situation?
If your witness doesn’t actually know, then do not use them, to do so devalues your overall credibility.
Only add a witness if they clearly add value and credibility to your case.
Character witnesses are usually of little value, it is better to have witnesses with direct knowledge of the issues at hand.
Affidavit of Service
This confirms that the served documents were served on the intended recipient.
Filing Documents on Time
Get your own documents correct, if necessary, ask for an extension of time. If your documents are incomplete, this may severely restrict your negotiating options, as the case progresses through hearings. (Remember that if you get an extension of time, then the other party will find it much easier to get an extension of time, when it suits them.)
Try to keep to the hearing dates given, unless some new issue arises and you could not keep the hearing date and be properly prepared and briefed.
Affidavits – Rule 158 No Hearsay
Don’t ask children questions, as far as possible they should not be drawn into adult disputes.
You can report what the children say and try to obtain independent evidence on the issue, that can be presented in court, by witnessing it yourself, or finding some other witness.
If draft 1 is angry, do NOT file it. (Throw it away, or file it safely where it cannot accidentally be filed to court or posted to anyone.) Start preparing your documents very early, so that you have enough time to work through several drafts, before filing. If you have any doubt about your documents, get an independent (not directly involved) person to review it and tell you whether emotions are showing through. You often cannot reliably check your own work, for strong emotions showing through.
If you quote some other person in your affidavit, show them the part where their comments are quoted and ask them if they are willing to sign it as correctly presenting their comments. They may wish to amend their comments. While it is preferable that you get them to sign a typed copy, this is not essential. It is better to have a signed handwritten copy, than a typed unsigned copy! They are often more willing to sign within a short time, than a few days later. If they do not sign, then you can subpoena them to appear at the hearing. Most people prefer to sign their statement, rather than to appear under subpoena. (If you subpoena them, you will almost certainly have to pay scale witness expenses and the inconvenience to them might have a damaging effect on your relationship with them.)
Judges are increasingly filing costs against applicants, who file long or argumentative affidavits.
Application Without Notice
Judge will often give 24 hours notice and abridged time to reply. You have little to lose by asking for a hearing without notice.
Psychologist’s Report usually not given to parties, only to their lawyer.
Fathers should not manipulate or “involve” children in a dispute. (It appears that mothers get more latitude in this respect, from judges.) Psychologists tend to parrot the mother’s words and ignore the father’s comments, unless quoting him to show him up in a bad light. When meeting with the psychologist, ask them to read back their notes to you during your interview. This will generally highlight apparent bias and give you an opportunity to discuss it with the psych before they have submitted their report, as the damage is pretty much done by the time the report has been submitted. Challenge any bias strenuously at this point. If you wish to dispute anything afterwards, you will have a very expensive process of review by another psych and/or asking another psych to give a report at your cost (if your ex wife will agree to meet this psych).
Approaching the Hearing
Many applicants and respondents are extremely frustrated by the delays involved in getting to a hearing.
From the start, assess where the negotiations are going. Negotiate towards your preferred and other acceptable outcomes. If the other party will not move at all in your desired direction, you are probably best to settle for any outcome that you find acceptable, as otherwise the legal process will drag out and probably be very expensive.
Administrative function, mainly to set time-scale for next series of Affidavits. Work out your desired timescale and work hard to keep to it. If you are not careful with time, then it will easily drag out. The record to come to hearing is 3 years. This is a large fraction of a child’s life. If you want to keep to the allotted time-scale, help the other side, write to them 7 days before the date on which their submission is due and remind them that their affidavit is due!
Alternative Processes for Submission of Affidavits prior to hearing
Slow standard process
Private mediation, Mediation conference with judge, Affidavit in support, Affidavit in opposition, Affidavit in reply, then hearing.
Faster process, if the other party agrees
organise your own private mediation in a few days, Mutual exchange of affidavits and hearing on the same day.
Long delay to Hearing – Consider applying for interim custody
At the Hearing
Applicant, Respondent, Counsel for children, psychologist
District Courts Act sets out the order of appearance in a hearing.
Order should be decided by the value of the order, ie what suits your strategy. Be careful about agreeing to a change of order, unless you fully understand the implications and risks involved in a changed order. Giving psych reports earlier can cut the case short, by destroying the applicants case, it doesn’t allow you to present your facts to an uninfluenced judge. “They” may want to bluff you into withdrawing from the case. Generally, do not agree to a change of order of presentation, unless you are very confident of the effects of this decision. [Alan Candy suggested that it can be helpful to hear the psych evidence, before you have given your own presentation, so that you can tailor your presentation to handle the psych’s evidence.
Meeting with the Psychologist, so they can prepare report.
Manipulate people and evidence, usually to serve the people who are paying them.
Prepare beforehand what you want to say to them, using notes and/or tape recorder.
They will usually check that each parent gives support to the other parent in their role.
Psychs are not Determiners of Truth, do not expect them to try or be capable of performing this role.
They are supposed to highlight differences in the information that the two parents present to them.
They are influenced strongly by your demeanour, manner of explanations and denials.
Maybe take a support person with you to the interview.
Use practice sessions with a friend, to bring out your vulnerable emotions and allow you to defuse these before the actual interview with the psych and you can be level headed and sensible. Remember that usually women have more time to discuss these types of issues with their friends, so that unless you can have similar amount of preparation, you will be at a serious disadvantage.
Psychologist builds a base of information, draws inferences, forms opinions. The best place to start challenging them is the base information, if you can show that this is wrong, then let their inferences and opinions fall down. Then challenge their inferences and opinions. Use your support person to challenge the fairness of the psychologist’s questions.
It is hard to critique psychologist’s notes, after their report is written. Any “errors” are usually in the process between the interview and the recording of the notes. These errors will usually be between the words and the notes. The errors will not be detectable in the notes. The notes will probably be self consistent, unless you have a recording of the meeting that allows you to show the note errors.
Jenny Tanner is a biased psychologist. She usually comes out against catholicism.
John Brett took notes in parallel with the psych taking notes. Some psychs see this as threatening to themselves, as it is then easier for the father to challenge the psychs reporting of the conversation. Notes made at the time are accepted in court as more reliable than notes taken later based on recall.
John Brett mentioned that he showed the psych report to his teenage children. He was severely criticised for involving the “children” in the details of the case.
Sue Blackwell comments?????????
Ambush the psych at the hearing, challenge only at the hearing, so that they do not have any warning about the form of your challenge.
Mahony’s Practice Note No. ????? Complaints about psych report can only be heard at the hearing. Thus if you are not fully prepared, you lose any opportunity to complain about their report.
Meeting with psych
Make your own written notes. You can compare these to your list of issues to be discussed, so that you can raise issues that the psych has not.
Ask to record the conversation. Ideally you should offer them a copy, to be given to them as soon as possible after the meeting, or if possible make 2 tapes at the meeting.
Recording of the meeting is an issue between yourself and the psychologist, not an issue for the court. For this evidence to be admissible, generally you must have the agreement of all people present to record, ie from the psych. (Taping a telephone call is not illegal, even without permission. The same should apply to your conversation with the psych, but if you do it without obtaining their free agreement, you risk getting offside with them and possibly with the court too.)
A tape has strong evidence value, once it has been transcribed. However, you are probably best not to disclose prior to the hearing that you have a transcription. Then you can entrap a witness in cross examination, by saying “This transcription of what you said contradicts what you have just said that you said!”
A recording must not be made of a court hearing without the judges permission. Benny said he had done this and made sure that he had a second tape to hand in. The judge ordered that the tape be destroyed without being listened to. Benny’s second tape was handed in, to be destroyed, so that he could retain a copy.?????????? This judges order could have been challenged, but if the only tape had already been destroyed, then a challenge would be only academic!
Request the psych to read their notes back to you. This allows you to correct any mistakes or misunderstandings, before the psych writes their report. Any errors become extremely difficult to correct later and possibly will never be corrected.
A request to the court, for an order that the psych’s notes be released to the respondent (you) would usually not be granted by the judge. Therefore, your only practical chance to be sure of seeing them and getting a copy, is to make this a condition of agreeing to see the psych. Later you have no negotiating position.
Prepare for the Hearing Law, Facts and Strategy.
Usually the law is a small issue, the general principles will be clearcut.
Concentrate on Facts and Strategy.
Stick to the truth.
Sort and Index all affidavits, to make sure that you can find them quickly and reliably, under stress.
Practice role plays with one or several friends, ask them to try to destroy your case. You want them to attack you from all sides and pull you to pieces long before you end up in court.
Lawyers already have lots of practice in cross examination, so your friends need to be the most knowledgeable and imaginative that you can find, to find all of your weaknesses. This will help you to get your emotions under control and your judgement under stress to be well balanced.
As a witness in court, keep your answers simple and to the point. Don’t argue with the lawyer or ask questions back. Just answer the question and keep it brief.
If you believe that the lawyer asking you questions isn’t really listening to your answers, you may be able to waffle the questions that you don’t want to answer? This is dangerous, as the judge’s opinion about your credibility will probably be dropping fast.
The other side’s lawyer should ask you closed questions, you should only be able to answer yes or no. A poor lawyer may ask open questions, where you can give a reasonably full answer. The lawyer tries to walk you to a cliff, he stops walking and hopes that you will continue walking, over the edge of the cliff, by yourself.
Try to focus your questions around the interests of the children. There is no time limit on cross examination, as long as it is clearly constructive and contributing to the case which you are presenting.
Plan your Cross Examination
Write out your questions, every last one and in the order which you intend to use them.
Your questions should be closed, ie only permit a yes or no answer. Otherwise you are not in control of where the path leads.
The path should lead to proving the facts and goal which you want to establish.
You should have a clear idea how long you will make the hearing. Either party can make it longer.
Margaret Wilson has suggested that District Court (including Family) Judges should be protected from being sued, in the same way that High Court Judges are presently protected.
Mark Walsh (ex Chairman Men’s Centre North Shore)
Mother took back custody of child unilaterally
Psychologist made sure that mother was eligible for DPB benefit.
Mother puts child into third party care, in contrast to father who cared for child himself!
Mother obtained stay of proceeding to father’s custody application.
Current appealing to High Court from FC decision on the basis of “judicial predetermination”.
Lots of different judges involved in case, suggestion of this making it not possible for the judges to be satisfactorily briefed on the whole file.
Father breached custody order and took child on holiday without the permission of now custodial mother.
Court took mother’s side and did not consider the best interests of the child.
The whole legal process is massively expensive and this does may serve the “paramount” interests of bringing up children well.
Father paid $5 to $10,000 for legal costs.
Mother received no risk legal aid, by resigning from her job and going onto benefit.
Judge used reduction of access as punishment to father, on three occasions.
Father greatly helped by Alan Candy, of Union of Fathers.
Mark advises, get help from other fathers, on legal, social and emotional support issues.
Judge Green is now married and called Judge Clarkson.
Greg Howlett? from Fathering NZ
spoke and presented copies of his book “Who is my Father” to attendees.
Got better and quicker results from Family Court, when he presented his own case, than when he paid a lawyer.
Family Court is now awarding severe costs against men, to discourage them from accessing the Family Court.
Benny asserts that children have a right to equal parenting input from both parents.
Always call the children “my children”, rather than just naming the children, as otherwise the FC assumes that the children “are the mother’s”.
If you consider that the judge has shown an unacceptable degree of bias, make a formal case for them to be removed from the case. In his experience, usually the judge will excuse themselves from the case rather than fight the removal request.
Don’t be intimidated by judges and lawyers, it’s your children that you are “fighting” for.
Benny had taped a court case, without previously obtaining the judges permission. He was ordered to surrender the tape for destruction but he had a spare tape available and gave that tape in for destruction.
My Experience in Family Court Proceedings
Benny, 17 May 2003
Custody and Access and Matrimonial Property
1. It is rather futile to argue for "shared parenting" and there are no such things as 50/50 custody and equal custody.
2. As "shared parenting" is already implied in Guardianship Act when parents separate.
3. To deprive your legal entitlement, the Court normally slaps you with a Protection Order (PO). If you have a PO against you, you need to get rid of it, or else it would be an uphill battle to gain any kind of custody.
4. But there is joint custody, so seek joint custodial order (not access order, unless you just want to be a visitor in your children's lives).
5. Custody gives you equal right with your spouse over your children even if you are prepared to have your children just over the weekend once a fortnight.
6. You can have the care arrangement stipulated in the order (either it is a court order or a consent order). If possible to also include a deterrent clause (to discourage either party to breach the joint custody order).
7. So there are significant legal and psychological implications.
8. As an analogy, when you have a joint custody of $10 with another person, that person can not spend any of that $10 without your permission. When the other person has the sole custody of that $10, and when you want to spend any of that money, you need to seek that person's permission, and that person may only permit you to spend say $1 on his or her terms and conditions.
9. It is possible to get more than half of your matrimonial property.
10. You just need to know the laws and put in a lot effort in achieving what you want.
When dealing with your spouses, their lawyers and Family Courts:
• Be courteous and assertive.
• Know exactly what you want.
• Figure out what the other party wants.
• Ask (apply) for more than what you want.
• Don't be intimidated and don't accept bullying (including intimidation and nonsense).
In any oral and written submissions, it is crucial to submit in the "IRAC" format:
• I stands for Issues (that you want the Court to make a ruling).
• R stands for Relevant laws (statutory acts and case laws).
• A stands for Apply to the given facts.
• C stands for Conclusion (what you want the Court to rule).
Critical Success Factors-
1. Demand to be treated fairly and respectfully
2. Know the Laws (Statutory and Case Laws)
3. Emphasize your children's "legal entitlement" to have equal inputs from both parents
4. Follow and apply the court's rules and procedures
5. Seek advice whenever necessary (including from friends and lawyers)
6. Preparation (reread own documents a few times and seek friends' comments)
7. Be organised (eg own filing at home and at court)
8. Follow ups (with the Court and the other party's lawyers)
9. Don't accept traditional/conventional views (eg women get sole custody and more assets)
10. Courteousness, Assertiveness and Perserverance (if court is biased, tell them so, it is ok
to let them know that they can't wear you down, that you won't give up until you get
want you really want, but need to accept that sometimes you win sometimes you lose)
IRD has had a reputation for destroying people, but Rodney says that the hardest cases he hears about as an MP, are the Family Court cases. These are the cases that leave him lying awake at night, feeling that something constructive should be done. Family Court causes more destruction than IRD. These cases of destroying fathers in families would never occur in an open court system and should not occur in NZ.
Media are generally scared of taking sides in family disputes.
Expressed appreciation of the work of Jim Bagnall and Menz Centre, for supporting fathers through Family Court system.
What is required, is a continuous drip drip of pressure, to break down NZ’s own “Berlin Wall”.
Benny had spoken to Rodney and asked for assistance in dealing with the Family Court.
Rodney had no previous experience of dealing directly with Family Court, but took advice from Jim Bagnall, about assisting as a McKenzie Friend for Benny. Parliamentarians are required by “separation of powers between the three branches of Government, Parliament, Executive and Courts) to not directly criticise or undermine the Courts. However, this did not seem to preclude Rodney acting as a McKenzie Friend in Family Court, for Benny. I don’t worry about contempt of court.
Rodney did what Rodney does best, sit there glaring sternly and darkly at the judge and other sides lawyers.
Benny asked for justice, presented facts and showed he cared for his children.
The court proceeded to take away his children and then awarded costs against him, like asking a bank to pay for the getaway car!
Marriage broke down after wife’s “internet” relationship.
He was kicked out of the family home. He broke a cup in a fireplace is frustration and this was sufficient to allow wife to obtain Protection Order against him.
Spent $4,000 through lawyers and got nowhere in settling the issues and $4,000 behind financially.
He was required by Family Court to sign a “Non-Violence Undertaking”, but he avoided signing it for 8 months, without any issues of violence arising. He was under extreme pressure from Family Court to sign this “Undertaking”, but refused.
Bevan Berg helped him to pull his head in and keep his feet on the ground and stay out of trouble.
His ex-wife climbed through a window, when the kids were at his house with his new partner, but Dean was not at home.
Brent MY EXPERIENCE OF THE ANTI-FAMILY COURT
Paid lawyers for 10 years and totally lost access to the children.
Then for 2 years has self represented.
Always treated ex wife with respect.
Always treated judge with respect, but tries to be merciless with lawyers.
In 12 months has put in 300mm thick of applications to Family Court.
It's now 12 years since my first involvement in the Anti-Family Court. The first 10 years were at the "mercy" of lawyers. Because I didn't know that there was any other option, I just believed what I was told by these so-called "experts". On reflection, they did nothing but bleed me of $50,000.00 of hard-earned money, advise me that the things I wanted to do were not possible, came to arrangements that I found unsatisfactory, and.led me to believe that I should be grateful for what they had got for me. Over this 10 year period, my ex had stopped access 8 times, with no repercussions from the Family Court. Access was stopped each time that I did something that she didn't like - for example, when I stopped paying her extra money under the table, or when I got myself a girlfriend, or succeeded in any way.
In 2001 I decided to apply for shared parenting, as the boys were requesting more time with me and I wanted to be there for them. I had also settled into a new and happy stable marriage, and the boys had grown extremely close to my new wife and her son, and wanted more involvement in our family.
Throughout the preceding 10 years I was blinded to the corruption and deceit that permeates the whole family court system, especially the lawyers. I changed lawyers because I could no longer afford the $400 (PLUS GST!!) per hour for my original lawyer, to a lawyer who charged within my affordability. Upon hiring him I was unaware that his senior partner had just been delegated to act as counsel for child in my case. Because this woman had clear biases against me (and to such an extent that I was later able to have her fired), she was able to manipulate my new lawyer. Over the next 6 months I was sent a bill of nearly $4,000.00 for the privilege of having my access of every second weekend diminished overnight to zip. This new lawyer went to the extent of changing my new mother-in-law's affidavit from being one of support of me, to one of support of my ex, without our knowledge. This was achieved because he took advantage of my mother-in-law's trust in him as he was acting on my behalf and signed it without reading the final copy. I was not given a copy of this affidavit, until it was brought up in the courtroom by the other side, where they proceeded to shaft me with it. My lawyer said there was nothing further he could help with, and that to spend any more time and money would be futile. To that end he advised us to withdraw all proceedings and terminated his involvement. He put the blame squarely onto me for the loss of access. Never mind the fact that I had previously had weekend access, and my application had been for shared care!
It wasn't until going to a seminar that I met a member of the Union of Fathers. It was with hope and encouragement that I took up my own case. Within 6 months of representing myself (with McKenzie friend helpers), I had finally achieved a shared parenting order, with more time than I'd ever had before with the boys.
How to Successfully Present Your Case:
Part of the process that I used to achieve this was by frustrating the Family Court system with continued applications (a 300mm pile of applications, affidavits and memorandums). This is part of sending a clear message that you're not going away until you get what you want - don't accept "no" as an answer, but keep looking for excuses to put in more paperwork. It is my belief that the best way to represent yourself is to go to extra trouble and time to make every document look professional, sound professional, and be presented in a professional manner. Part of my psychology is to shock the other side into believing that you know exactly what you're trying to do, how to do it, and that you won't be stopping until that is achieved. In other words, portraying an image that they do not intimidate you, and won't be scared off. For example, I decided in my 2nd hearing to proudly wear my Union of Father's t-shirt into the courtroom, to demonstrate that they did not intimidate me at all. The Judge promptly threw me out, just to make it clear that I had not intimidated her either! I literally left the courtroom pissing myself with laughter, as things could not appear to have been any worse! In one way this made it easier because upon returning to the courtroom, I still had nothing to lose, and at that point was on the uphill climb to more access. That day I went from supervised access to day unsupervised access. (How do you eat an elephant? - one bite at a time).
Another one of my philosophies is finding the way to have fun and enjoy the process, or otherwise it will eat you up and destroy you. How I achieved this was to look for opportunities to take the piss out of the lawyers and humiliate them in front of the Judge and their colleagues - at the same time maintaining total respect for the Judge and my ex. I found that the Judges enjoyed the entertainment and in some cases not only promoted it, but even joined in with me in taking the piss out of the lawyers. This did not necessarily mean that I got exactly what I wanted, but at least I enjoyed the process!
The people that I help as McKenzie Friend I spend considerable time helping them to change from a "win-lose" mentality or a "pay-back" attitude.; to one of a winner's attitude. For example in my case, my opening paragraph in most of my affidavits and submissions was often "That I'm not here to win, because as far as I'm concerned, everybody has already lost." And "That all I have to do to show J and A that I love and care for them is to continue to make the effort to have more time with them, and that all C has to do to undermine her own relationship with J and A, is to keep hindering and frustrating access". I also ensured that before I got to Court, that I had worked through any issues I had towards my ex, so that I had a good attitude towards her. There is always something positive that you can find about a person to enable you to show respect to them and have a good attitude towards them - for me it was the fact that she was their mother, regardless of what she'd done.
It is my opinion that Judges can perceive what a person's attitude and motivation is. I also believe that because everything is so much stacked against fathers (in regards to the Family Court system), that it is even more important to paint the best picture possible of yourself, but if it's not genuine it will be used against you as well. So be determined to do whatever it takes to
get a good attitude.
Why I believe everybody should represent themselves:
The most disempowering time of my life was having to sit like a stuffed chook next to some upstart, self-opinionated lawyer continually telling me to shut up, and let him do his job. In contrast, my last one-day hearing in the Family Court for my case was giving an hour and half opening statement off the top of my head. My ex's lawyer and counsel for child got to talk for 3/4 hour each, and then I summed up with another 3/4 hour closing statement. My ex got to sit there and say nothing for the whole day, and had I have had a lawyer, I would have had to do the same.
In other words, representing yourself means that you have a voice - a voice for yourself, and for your children. For me the satisfaction of knowing that I did the best I could, and that I did it myself, meant that I felt good about myself, even though I may not have got exactly what I wanted. It has changed me hugely as a person - I'm proud of myself, and it has been a huge personal growth experience.
The offshoot of this is that now my boys really look up to me and respect me for what I have achieved. Because they are grateful for that, they support me and are proud of me in now being a McKenzie Friend for other dads, because their dad is helping other kids get to see their dads too. No lawyer could have
ever achieved this.
Where there are any sort of allegations made against you (whether drugs, violence etc), representing yourself gives you the only opportunity you'll have to show the Judge that you are either innocent, or that you have changed.
Being a counsellor, I have also learnt some invaluable techniques to help boost my confidence etc in the courtroom, which greatly helped me with my case. For example, in cross-examination of my ex, I was able to use some psychology to ask questions in a way that drew information out of my ex that she had no intention of saying.
Another benefit of representing yourself is that I am now starting to find that lawyers are extremely hesitant to go into the courtrooms and lose to an amateur! I am finding that people that others and I help as a McKenzie friend are coming under considerable pressure to not be involved with us, even though it is their right. When the lawyers are unable to change the situation, they all of a sudden want to start settling out of court and offering all sorts of deals. They seem more interested in saving their own face and reputation, than representing their clients in this situation. This proves how low down lawyers are, that they do not represent their client's best wishes at all.
Other benefits of representing yourself is that when in the court room, you have all the history and knowledge in your head - no lawyer does. And although you may have to put in many hours doing your affidavits and submissions etc, you save yourself money in the long run, and it's good therapy!
Kate Ideas for Self Representation
See C v M where judge rejects McKenzie Friend requested by father.
comment about Judge Doogue??????/
Try to arrange suitable witness, if you have them you don’t seem to need them.
If you don’t have them, then you are likely to need them!
Council to Assist Court, seemed to work against her.
Apply for Discovery of other sides case file.
Present all evidence at the beginning, put in everything, as it is hard to add to your case later unless you can show the new issue is newly arisen.
Don’t exagerate????, maintain your credibility.
Fundamentals of Trial Technique
District Court Practice Civil - for cross examination suggestions, appearing for the plaintiff.
Advocating for Yourself in Custody and Access proceedings in the Family Court
Some Suggestions by a Lay Litigant
1. Your behaviour in Court is a form of evidence.
2. A McKenzie friend (support person and witness) is essential. Get one for yourself and volunteer as one for experience.
3. Get familiar with the Act and the Rules that apply to your proceedings
Acts which may apply : The Guardianship Act 1968
The Domestic Violence Act 1995
Children Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989
Rules which apply: Family Courts Rules 2002.
Rules attached to the Act the proceedings are under
The Rules govern the procedure of the Court. They are the Rules of the game. In the. Rules, you will find the forms to use, and various "moves" that can be made. The Family Court is a civil Court. Civil Rules apply not Criminal Rules.
4. Our law is made up of the Statutes and case law, not statutes alone. You can find the Statutes with a commentary in Family Law Service published by Butterworth's. The commentary refers to case law. Lawyers also use Trapski's published by Brookers.
5. Present all your evidence at the first Hearing. It is difficult to introduce new evidence at Appeal. Get everything relevant into your affidavit. Don't omit something because you don't want to be too hard on the other party. The Judgment will be made on the basis of evidence presented. Tell the truth. Don't discredit yourself. Don't evade either.
6. Get other people, as well as yourself, to write affidavits in support of your application or defense. Points 5 applies to your witnesses as well as yourself. Tell them so.
7. District Courts Practice (Civil) at Ak Public Library has a section on Appearing for the, Plaintiff and Defendant.
8. Cross examination. Don't be disheartened if the other party is a liar. It is an excellent opportunity for you to discredit them. Find out how to cross examine. Read Mauet's Fundamentals of Trial Techniques NZ edition.
9. At a Judicial conference there is usually no cross examination. However, anything can happen. Applications can be made. Not recorded except for the Judge's Directions, made at the end.
10. You make an Application. That is you ask for something, using theAct and the. Rules. An application is filed with an affidavit in support. An affidavit is the facts only. You can annex copies of letters' to your affidvit. Opinions 'and case law goo into Submissions.
Keep in touch with other lay litigants.
Friday, 16 May, 2003
Richard from Tauranga
Self representation is trench warfare, gender warfare, it takes effort and persistance.
Richard spoke with emotion showing through on his voice.
The law states that the Court Registrar shall give a copy of any psychologist’s report to parties, unless by order of a judge???????
Lots of men leave a family with a feeling of a lot of guilt. This leaves the other person getting things through “fait accompli”, which is an undesirable form of relationship.
Negotiate for sensible deal. You can be generous, but make sure that your own situation is stable and secure, for your kids sake as well as your own.
Preparation takes lots of hard work and motivation to follow it through.
Paper war, make sure that you have everything necessary on paper, suitable for presentation as evidence to court.
After a telephone conversation, always confirm what was said by letter. Everything should be recorded on paper, at the time.
Don’t allow interruption of access, you must fight the whole way. Don’t complain to the court, complain to the police, under Section 20 . They may try to fob you off, but stick with it and demand that they act. The police report then becomes useful useable evidence.
Go for lots of hearings, preliminary and final hearings. Get experience of how to deal with the court. Run up the other sides legal expenses as much as possible. Use lots of points of law. interlocutory hearings are good practice and you cannot lose anything important.
Try to put the opposition off, criticise something about the opposition lawyer or something that they have done, remember that they will be trying to intimidate you or put you off.
Stay focussed on what you want the most, never highlight more than 3 points or issues.
Cross examination - your ex may lie through her teeth. Keep your cool, don’t get angry and lose it all.
McKenzie Friends have been allowed to to cross examine and to speak in court??????
The other side’s lawyer may try to have your McKenzie Friend thrown out, if so insist that they cannot have a lawyer?????
Judge will usually defer, to let you choose another McKenzie Friend to be present.
Parents may not be photographed during access visits to Barnardos.
Parents are only allowed to take head and shoulders photos of their own children and only with the permission of the custodial parent.
Custodial parent can specify rules about photos, food and languages which may be spoken.
You can subpoena a Barnados note taker to appear in court as a witness.
Challenged wife’s use of family court, by appealing to High Court.
Had huge costs awarded against him, which now could bankrupt him, if the Dept of Courts follows through chasing this civil debt.
Don’t give up, keep on challenging the Family Court.
Most of all, enjoy life, even if it is sometimes pretty hard.
[from distributed hand written note]
Family Court of Injustice – yet another story. unreadable sentence???????
Physically violent ex wife
Prior to separation, father spent an enormous amount of time with children.
Ex wife shacked up with her lawyer.
I have been harassed for 5 years and court system abused.
Wife applied for restricted access by husband, resulting in severely restricted access for long periods.
Years of obstructed access.
Bizarre psychological reports, claiming neurological damage.
Despite psychiatric report dismissing suggestions of neurological damage, judge ???? this extraordinary statement in his judgement and uses it.
“He has either neurological damage and/or personality disorder or neither!”
The last court case I was involved in was a complete “jack up” with extensive collusion between counsel for child, hand picked psychologist and judge and most likely opposing counsel. They all lied, knowingly.
I was denied McKenzie Friends. I was acting against 4 lawyers.
There was a clear intention by the court to destroy me financially.
MY EXPERIENCE who??????
I met the ex-wife in London, England in 1996. She is a Brazilian, born of Italian descent but had been living in Europe since her late teens. She was very fascinated with New Zealand and wanted to live there and as soon as possible. We were married in early 1997 and my son was born in London, England in 1998. Soon after his birth a family tragedy occurred, and we mutually decided to move to NZ to settle sooner than as been planned.
We have always shared the responsibilities of caring for our child and in the early months of his life I was heavily involved in his care responsibilities. My son started pre-school before turning 1 years old, and started full time pre-school at 1,4 months old, so my ex at her insistence, could work full time. We continued to share the care arrangements and at no time was there a clear custodial parent.
Over the 1999/2000 New Year holiday period, we holidayed to Brazil to meet her family for the first time. My ex then insisted on going to Brazil with my son to visit her family over January 2001 holidays. She phoned from Brazil in late January to state that our marriage was over and that she was not coming back and if I wanted to see my son I would have to come to Brazil.
Four days later she called, acted as if nothing was wrong, when questioned she denied her previous statements and used other excuses for staying on longer. It was later discovered that if she were to separate whilst in Brazil, their Courts would consider she abandoned the family home in New Zealand and she would have no rights to the proceeds.
It then became very difficult to communicate with my son and with this reduced contact and only Portuguese spoken there, my son lost his English speech. He also began to exhibit disturbing behaviour of which in Court was denied.
I then commissioned a Lawyer at the start of these problems and was told there was not much I could do while my son was in Brazil as they were not a Hague Convention country, and that the best I could do was to encourage them to come home.
As time progressed she then began to indicate that she would come back. Following a couple of false starts with me going to the airport and them not arriving, they eventually arrived back in April 2001. She had warned me a couple of days before arriving that she was only here for 2 months, was bringing her mother and was there for the purpose of
settling matrimonial property so she could return to Brazil.
She and her Lawyer wanted me to agree with a privately commissioned psychologist’s report in what was best for Luca. My lawyer recommended that I should go along with this proposal to keep my son here in New Zealand as long as possible. They choose a psychologist by the name of Anne Raethal and my lawyer supposedly representing me indicated no concern with this psychologist, stating that psychologists were are all the same.
Anne Raethal’s report supported Luciana taking Luca to Brazil. My lawyer convinced me not to do anything about the report and that there were things in it that were supportive and beneficial to me.
1 then put an ex-parte application for an order preventing removal combining a Capps listing (which is an order enforced by Interpol) and an application for custody to the Family Court and this officially started the custody battle through the Courts.
My ex then countered by cross applying for custody, for the removal of the Capps listing, and to relocate with my son to Brazil,
The Court arranged counselling with an appointed Court Counsellor, as required under the Guardianship Act. We mutually come to an agreement regarding a shared care regime and I was trying to have this put into a Family Court order but at the last counselling session my ex changed her mind and refused to agree to an order.
The Family Court then commissioned a Counsel for Child for my son in September 2001. C4CC had interviews with both parties and tried to bring agreement for the shared care arrangement, which had been agreed with the Court Counsellor. My ex still refused to have this agreement put into a court order. And when this arrangement was not used I was blamed by the C4C for not implementing it.
We attended a Judicial Conference in November 2001 at this point the ex was now wanting to stay in NZ. At this conference the Judge told me that if I didn’t become reasonable and allow the ex to travel with my son, it would be possible that I could lose in court. The Judge then told the ex that religious issues she was raising were not going to succeed in Court. Finally the Judge ordered that the ex had several weeks to confirm whether she was still seeking relocation to Brazil.
Following the Judicial Conference in February my ex removed all objections on religious issues and confirmed to the Court that she was not seeking to relocate to Brazil and was happy to settle in NZ.
Following this in April we received notification that the ex was formally engaged and that she was wishing to relocate to Sydney, Australia with my son and that we had 7 days to reply or they would apply to the Family Court for relocation.
We did not reply for 2 weeks so they went ahead with their application and the court case commenced.
Affidavits back and forth and a Court date were set for October 2002.
The Court went to appoint a psychologist to supply the Court with a Section 29 report. We applied to have an independent psychologist as the other, party were seeking the Court to appoint Anne Raethal. We were successful in having another psychologist appointed. Unfortunately this new psychologist relied on Anne Raethal for a lot of her research for the report. I am convinced this is totally unethical and unjust. The primary purpose I expect would be to keep the psychologists opinions and reports supportive of each other. In my experience these reports are not truthful and are just expressions of their personal theories and should only be considered as hearsay evidence and therefore the Judges cannot put unnecessary weight on them.
In my case the psychologists have been found to lie and manufacture false evidence to support and advance their theories.
We applied for a new Court date, as the psychologist s29 report was late, we then applied for a new Court appointment and an adjournment until the 4`h of November 2002 was granted.
On the morning of the Court proceedings commencement, we arrived to find a different Judge had been assigned. Over the first two days of the proceedings I began to realise that my Lawyer was incompetent, she was not willing to defend me, allowing the ex to run and control her cross examination. The C4C was biased and the Judge had come in with a pre-determined mindset, and that was the very excuse used by my counsel.
The two psychologists, one Court appointed and Anne Raethal, who was hired by the other side to appear in Court, gave evidence strongly supportive to allowing the ex relocation. The Court appointed psychologist’s s29 report was not strong to read. but in Court she strengthened her evidence and even explained her report in different context than what was in the written form. My counsel was totally in-effectual against the psychologists, even though pre-trial she had convinced me that the section 29 report was going to be ripped apart in Court.
The proceedings completed prematurely and the Judge declared that he would read his judgement the next day, this is most uncommon, as Judges will normally reserve their judgement and take a week or two to deliver their decision. This again indicates the extraordinary and unusual nature of these proceedings.
On the evening of the conclusion of the case, I phoned the Union of Fathers and with members help tried to put through to Bevan Berg then Alan Candy.
Alan Candy came with me in the morning and notified the Court of the dismissal of my counsel and notified that Alan would appear as my McKenzie friend. Judge Kendall would not allow my counsel to he dismissed as he said that the case was complete and that my former counsel should be present. This is not in fact true as I am able at any time to remove counsel and the proceedings were not completed as the Judge had still to read out his ruling.
The ruling was a forgone conclusion; my ex got more than what they had asked for. This in itself is extraordinary, and in addition the Judge stated that the judgement weighed heavily on the psychologist’s evidence, but in contradiction he never ruled as the Court appointed psychologist had recommended, that the best scenario for Luca was to he in shared care in Sydney, Australia.
In his ruling he made comments about my family not being supportive and about other lies and false evidence that my ex had submitted to Court. Everything I said was disbelieved and everything my ex had alleged, with no supporting evidence, was believed. And this was irrespective of it being proved in Court that my ex had lied and exaggerated in her testimony and submissions, this the Judge blatantly ignored.
Then to add insult to injury the Judge allowed the other party to make a costs application against me. And then surprise surprise, the same Judge awarded $ 9,000.00 costs against me, towards my ex’s legal bill. His costs ruling indirectly stated that I had no right in defending the best interests of my son.
What I have learnt is that in putting your faith and trust in a Lawyer or Barrister who has no emotional or personal involvement in the circumstance and to a certain extent can be numbed and blase about these circumstances, you can be going in the wrong direction and against your best interests in the false impression that you are on the right road. These professionals who will be paid whether or not you win or lose arc in a small arena and are too familiar with others of their trade, too familiar with the psychologists and Judges and hence can and will decide what is best for you and your children outside the
What is best for you individually is to stand up and fight for the rights of your children. They need you just as much as you need them and maybe more. How can you do this without your proceedings being unduly influenced by poor counsel or a politically motivated psychologist and/or Judge, looking to remove you from your children and your rights as a loving and caring father?
The best way is to by representing you yourself.
I am currently self represented in the High Court and am finding this task a daunting one. it is surely a hard and fast learning curve but at least I am able to represent myself truly and am responsible for my own decisions and actions.