An aspect of the Family Court system is a position called a McKenzie Friend (sometimes referred to as a Lay Assistant). This person supports someone through the Court process. The presence of a McKenzie Friend must be applied for and accepted by the Family Court.
The process involves the client (applicant) filling in an application form with the support worker or advocate at the Court, which is signed by a registrar. At the same time the support worker will sign a form outlining the undertakings of a McKenzie Friend. That form has to be completed and signed in front of the Deputy Registrar. All parties to the proceeding must consent to the application by signing it in the presence of a Court Registrar. The registrar must then sign the application as well.
It is not a given that the support worker will be able to support the client in the court hearing. Once those two forms are signed and lodged the presiding judge has the right to decline the application. Lawyers and the other party also have the right to object to the McKenzie Friend attending. This might occur if it is felt the person would obstruct the efficient administration of justice.
Two common reasons for an advocate/support worker to be a McKenzie Friend are prior work alongside the client, and lack of legal representation:
A McKenzie Friend can support a client in the Family Court but will have minimal ability to be speak or actively participate in the hearing. They are less of an advocate and more like an extra set of eyes and ears to support clients at a stressful and crucial moment of time.
A McKenzie Friend should not be confused with a litigation guardian. A person who is under 18 or has an intellectual disability may request a trusted person to be their litigation guardian (LG). The LG then conducts the court matter and makes decisions. This is substituted decision-making but the disadvantaged person still attends Court and is consulted.