Scope and Limitations of a McKenzie Friend in Australian Family Court for Self Represented Litigants
Updated: Mar 17
The majority of parenting or property cases can be resolved without the need for a contested hearing. But without assistance and knowledge of the system, family law disputes can become protracted. A McKenzie Friend can make a real difference during the early and stages, even before any trial hearing takes place. A knowledgeable McKenzie Friend can help self represented litigants negotiate the disputed areas therefore minimising conflict and time, and removing the burden off the court's register. Reaching an amicable conclusion to a dispute for both parties should be at the top of the list for a McKenzie Friend.
PRE-COURT MCKENZIE FRIEND SCOPE OF ASISSTANCE
In the early stages, pre-court scope of works for a McKenzie Friend could be to provide guidance, negotiation support and document preparation for:
Child Custody and Parenting Plans
Property Consent Orders
Parenting Consent Orders
Child Support Applications and Income Objections
FAMILY COURT PROCEEDINGS SCOPE OF ASSISTANCE
The bar table is one of the scariest, stomach churning places a lay person can stand audience at. The Australian court system permits a 'friend' to sit beside you to assist. This support person can be a friend or family member, or someone external, like me. We are all known as a McKenzie Friend in the eyes of the Family Courts and Magistrate Courts in Australia.
Your McKenzie Friend does not have to be an expert or even have any particular knowledge of the law. They are there to sit beside you, help with your papers and keep an eye on what’s going on and keep you on track.
At the other end of the scale your ‘friend’ could really know how the system works. A sort of consultant without being a lawyer, who will be the unemotional bystander. Therefore they are in the best possible position for you to watch and listen to everything in court and quietly whisper or jot down suggestions to you when you are communicating with a Judge or witness in a trial.
The scope of work a McKenzie can assist with at the court end are:
Guidance through the maze of Family Court processes and procedures
Common Law Property Applications to the Court or Response Property Applications
Parenting Applications or Parenting Responses
Family Court Forms
Applications in a Case
Keeping a self represented litigant on top of all the court orders and deadlines
Notice to Admit Facts
Disclosure document compilation
Trial documents and Submissions
Sitting as the support person in the court room
LIMITATATIONS OF A MCKENZIE FRIEND
It is important to acknowledge a McKenzie Friend, is not a lawyer, and therefore is unable to dispense legal advice.
A McKenzie Friend cannot speak or act on your behalf in court or sign documents on your behalf and are there to provide “reasonable assistance” and the judge can refuse to allow them to be involved in limited circumstances. It is illegal for an unqualified and unauthorised person to present a case in court on somebody’s behalf, so they will not be able to represent you at the hearings as it is unusual for a judge to grant this authority to a McKenzie Friend.
At the end of the day, the scope of assistance provided by a McKenzie Friend is up to the self represented litigant. Being through the process myself, it is more comforting to have a support person when running your own case because no matter how sophisticated you are things do get tough being in court, even confusing. The court process can become mentally exhausting trying to do everything yourself.