A client contacted me recently to reveal a worrying discovery he had made. He had just received his order from the family court and it contained a number of very serious errors.
This is not the first time I have been made aware of this disturbing trend and I feel compelled to tell you how to deal with this problem.
It is very important that you double check your court order when it arrives from the family court. I cannot emphasise this enough, so I will repeat it. Please check your family court order as soon as you receive it.
Why is this happening?
Court budgets have been drastically cut in recent years and staffing levels have been reduced. At the same time, increasing numbers of cases are being heard and more and more people going to court are doing so without legal representation.
This all adds up to more paperwork and a greater administrative load for the courts to handle.
If neither of the parties (you or the Applicant or Respondent) in court has legal representation, the court is responsible for drafting the order and sending it to you both.
The 3 key things to check in your family court order
1. Is it your court order?
This may sound obvious but check whether the order you have received is in fact yours. Courts sometimes send orders out with the wrong names and/or addresses. Double check your name, address, case number and the hearing dates.
2. Does the court order include everything that was agreed or ordered in court?
One section of the order will state: ‘it is ordered that….’. It will also have another section of recitals (list of facts), starting with the words ‘Upon the Court… And upon…’. If you attended your hearing with a McKenzie Friend, check the order against the notes your McKenzie Friend has given you. If you attended court on your own, check the order against your own notes.
3. Has a special or future provision been included in the court order?
For example, there may be a change in the contact arrangements for children from a certain point in the future. As long as this change was discussed and agreed or ordered, the special or future arrangements should form part of the order.
Why you should get the court to rectify errors in your court order
A court order is a legally binding document and if any of the parties to an order do not adhere to it, they could be held in contempt of court.
It stands to reason that the order should be correct so that you and the other party can stick to it.
What to do if there
are errors in your court order
It can take a number of weeks for the court to send you the sealed (officially stamped) court order. Contact the court where the hearing took place as soon as possible to tell court staff about the errors you have found in your court order.
You may find it worthwhile emailing the court because getting through by telephone can be difficult. The benefits of sending an email are that you will have a written record of the issues you have told the court about; the date you contacted the court and a record of any responses you have received from the court. When you email the court you should receive an automated email response confirming that your email has been received.
Sometimes there are only minor errors but I have encountered instances where all three of the above errors have been made in a single court order.
Depending on the type of hearing and the court, the judge may have recorded his or her ruling or, if a legal adviser was present, he or she may have taken notes. Court staff may have to refer your query back to the judge who made the order.
When you contact the court, try to find out how soon the
errors will be rectified.
Check any revised orders or other documentation you receive
from the court, and do not hesitate to contact the court again if any errors remain.
I always tell my clients to check their orders, and I think you should make a point of checking yours too.
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Copyright © Going to Court Alone – Debbie Thomas
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