Going to Family Court without a solicitor (England & Wales)


About half of all private-law applicants for Child Arrangements in the Family Courts do not use a solicitor. These are made-up of: those who use a reduced legal team, and those who do everything on their own. A study by the Ministry of Justice of LiP with no help concluded that very few coped with every aspect of a court case with any success. For at the end of the day, a court case is like a card game. You can read-up on how to play, and study the best ways to win as much as you like, but there is no substitute for the experience of actually playing hands. Some can just get lucky, but that’s all. If you don’t have the money, and have no access to legal aid, it may be best to wait until you have saved-up around £5,000 for a skeleton-crew and in the meantime try new ways to come to a solution out-of-court

An alternative to doing everything on your own is to instruct a direct access barrister and do the solicitor’s paperwork with the help of a McKenzie Friend . This can potentially give a massive saving as it cuts-out the need for two lawyers, and eliminates the most expensive of the pair. However, this comes at a price as litigation without a solicitor can quickly become a lonely, stressful and time-consuming endeavour.

The beauty of going to court without a solicitor is that you are not wedded to one lawyer, (who may turn out to be no good), and you keep your ability to buy-in additional resources as needed, such as new evidence or expert reports (that can be very expensive). Remember, while a firm of solicitors can accept failure without penalty, your children are at stake and you cannot afford to lose. Having the flexibility to redesign your legal-team during a court case can be the advantage you need.


[1. If you are at the start of your court case – go to the section on Court Forms (click here) and decide on the order you want which will lead you to the form you need].

2. Download a Manhandle Press Court-Order Template (click here) and get the exact wording you want a Court to make. This will help your thinking and will give you the right format should agreement be found at court for an order by consent/mutual agreement.  

3. Download the appropriate Court-Bundle Template (click here) and follow the instructions, keeping in mind the order you want a court to make. 

4. Chose a McKenzie Friend, for example a knowledgeable friend or relative, or a fee-charging person from the list on this website (click here).

5. Send your draft Court-Bundle for review by your chosen McKenzie Friend.

6. Serve your Court-Bundle as per the instructions in the Manhandle Press Template, and according to any Court Orders detailing how a bundle is to be prepared (if any exist), and in agreement with your chosen helper/McKenzie Friend.

7. On receiving a hearing date, as well as responses from the other party, consult with your McKenzie Friend on whether you should use a barrister at the next hearing. NB these can be very useful at getting quick agreements at a FHDRA.

[8. If you are going to use a direct access barrister, not less than two weeks before the next hearing – phone barrister chambers in your region (do a search on Google Maps) and ask the Chief Clerk to the Chambers: i) if they have direct access barristers in Family Law – Children Matters, ii) if any such a barrister is available on the date of your hearing iii) what their fee would be, including a telephone or face-to-face pre-hearing conference and him/her preparing a preliminary document (such as a position statement). 

9. Send a final version of your Court-Bundle to your chosen barrister, make payment, sign thier contract for that one hearing, and attend a pre-hearing conference - if one has been agreed].  

10. Serve your Court-Bundle Index and other papers (as per the Manhandle Press Template instructions) on the other party. Send a copy of your Court-Bundle to the Court Office, to arrive no later than 2-days before the hearing. Bring at least 2-more copies of your Court-Bundle (3 in all) to the hearing.

Further Information

Direct-access barristers can charge anywhere from £500 to £5,000, per day. Out of London Chambers tend to be cheaper and barristers will travel quite widely. All fees are quoted ex-VAT, so added-on 20% to get the real amount you will have to stump-up. This has to be paid in advance, along with signing a contract, each time you instruct a barrister to attend court. McKenzie Friends can typically charge between £15-60 per hour. 

To economize a LiP with a reduced legal-team will often use barristers at only some hearings, fielding the rest themselves. Interim sessions can be very short – 20 or 30 minutes in front of a Judge – and if you have a barrister, you would have to pay a full-day or half-day rate. However, be cautious about replacing a barrister with a McKenzie Friend for a hearing. Savings can be smaller than you think, and the two entities are not the same at all. A barrister can talk for you in a hearing, whereas a McKenzie Friend in England and Wales can only tug at your sleeve. 

If you are unfortunate enough to have a ‘Fact Finding’ ahead of a Final Hearing, I would sacrifice funds set-aside for the Final Hearing to fund a barrister at that hearing. Fact Findings Hearings are incredibly subjective assessments, (that you cannot appeal), about facts no Law Court can intruth decide fairly without a jury. To survive this farcial process unscathed, you need to have a barrister do the talking for you. 

More about costs

How to Instruct a Direct Access Barrister - (England & Wales).