Divorcing someone can be expensive. It goes on for many months, sometimes with no resolution in immediate sight. And if you can’t pay your solicitor's fees, the likelihood is that they will have to stop representing you. But there are options that ease the burden of legal fees and make them less onerous. Here, we look at the funding options that might help you continue to receive legal representation.
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Divorcing someone can be expensive. It goes on for many months, sometimes with no resolution in immediate sight. And if you can’t pay your solicitor’s fees, the likelihood is that they will have to stop representing you. But there are options that ease the burden of legal fees and make them less onerous. Here, we look at the funding options that might help you continue to receive legal representation.
Options for paying legal fees if you run out of money
1. Borrowing from family or friends
It is common for people going through legal proceedings to borrow money from family or friends. If this is an option, the person loaning the money should ensure they get a “worst case scenario” costs estimate from their solicitor. That way, everyone is aware of how much may need to be found to conclude the case. It would also be advisable to get a legal document drawn up outlining the amount being borrowed and repayment terms.
2. Legal Aid
Unfortunately, because of extensive cuts, legal aid is rarely available for divorces. But for those who have suffered domestic violence, abuse, or child abuse, it may still be claimed. That said, proving abuse is a huge challenge, as victims must give one of the prescribed forms of evidence. Not only that, but it is common for those fleeing abuse to have left everything behind.
3. Support group funding
If you have experienced any form of abuse, including financial or economic abuse, you may struggle to afford to fund divorce proceedings. There are several charities and organisations that can help with funding and provide you with debt information and advice. Contact your local citizens advice bureau for more information.
4. Applying for a court fee exemption
Although this won’t help with solicitors fees, for those in receipt of certain benefits or on a low income, it could get the court fees for the divorce removed altogether. There are certain eligibility criteria to satisfy, such as not having more than £3,000 in savings and investments if you are under the age of 61 and earning less than £1,345 if part of a couple (figures correct at the time of writing).
5. Getting a free legal consultation
You may decide to represent yourself in the proceedings as a litigant in person and instruct a solicitor on an ad hoc basis. Many people do this as it means that they only pay for the advice they receive at any given time, rather than making ongoing payments. Some law firms offer free consultations to new clients, although you shouldn’t use this to “advice shop” as it may adversely affect your case and things may be missed if the solicitor is advising from scratch each time. You may also live in an area that has a local law centre. These are independent and operate on a not-for-profit basis.
6. Pro Bono help
Some solicitors or barristers take cases on a “Pro Bono” basis. This means that they work on certain cases for free. Family lawyers may attend local advice centres or libraries to offer their services for free. For more information on whether this is available in your area, contact your local citizens advice centre or local authority.
7. Online divorce
Divorcing online has become more popular over recent years and can involve using the services of a solicitor on a fixed fee basis. The fee is generally agreed upfront before work starts and includes a follow up call with a divorce solicitor, professionally prepared documents, and legal support.
8. A “Sears Tooth” Agreement
A Sears Tooth agreement is named after the case that founded the legal principle and is a deed that assigns a client’s financial settlement to a solicitor. This enables a solicitor to cover any costs incurred during the course of the proceedings, because they will be paid first when the case is over. For example, if you receive a settlement from dividing the assets of the former family home, your legal costs are recouped from the monies before sending the balance to you. The court and any other party to the proceedings must be notified of this arrangement. In reality, this type of agreement is rare because it involves the solicitor extending a line of credit to the client with no guarantee of payment.
9. Funding from your ex
This may be a surprising option, but if your ex has sufficient funds to pay your legal costs, then it may be a way to ensure that the process runs smoothly without incurring huge amounts of debt. If they don’t agree, then you can ask the court to get your spouse to pay, although this can be a costly endeavour in and of itself.
10. Borrowing money/litigation loan
We’ve covered borrowing money from friends and family above, but it may also be possible to borrow money to pay for legal fees. Specialist loans to cover legal costs are becoming increasingly popular, with the loan being paid out of the final divorce settlement.
You may also considering taking out a more traditional type of loan with a bank or building society, or put the costs on your credit card. All these options should be considered carefully and as a last resort. The last thing you’d want is to be lumbered with a massive post-divorce debt that you can’t afford to pay off.
11. Legal expenses insurance cover
Many insurance policies come with legal expenses cover as a bolt-on perk. Whilst they don’t tend to cover divorces, they may offer a call centre that you can contact for legal advice. This may save you some time and money if you are struggling with a tricky legal issue during the process.
12. Support from a trades union
Advice can vary depending on the union you are affiliated with, but many have advice lines and offer services such as free consultations or reduced hourly rates with specialist lawyers.
Fundamentally, if you are having problems paying your solicitors fees, speak with them direct as soon as possible and they may be able to help. Solicitors are often able to find creative solutions for clients who lack the funds to fight their case.
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