The costs of getting a divorce can prevent many people from applying in the first place. In 2012, Legal Aid was a casualty of funding cuts, and this led to the removal of help for most family related disputes, including divorce and dissolution. Therefore, there is currently no Legal Aid available unless you are a victim of domestic violence, there is a risk of your child being abducted, or you are facing being made homeless. So, what can you do when you need a divorce lawyer but are not eligible for Legal Aid? This article sets out when you can claim Legal Aid, and what you can do if you don’t qualify.
Legal Aid for domestic abuse
If you or the children have suffered domestic abuse, then you may qualify for Legal Aid if you can show evidence of the abuse. The definition of domestic abuse includes physical violence, emotional abuse such as controlling and coercive behaviour, and financial control. It can be difficult to show evidence of domestic abuse because it is generally a hidden crime. But you may be able to ask those in the following categories to help you:
- A multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC)
- Social services
- Health professionals such as a GP, nurse, midwife, health visitor
- Women’s refuge
- Domestic abuse support services
- Employer, college, university, or training provider
Can I get Legal Aid for family mediation?
In most cases, it is a requirement, before making an application for a child arrangements or financial order as part of the divorce, for parties to attend mediation. There are exemptions to this requirement, such as in cases of domestic abuse, for example, but unlike for divorce and dissolution, Legal Aid is available for mediation. However, this is still subject to your financial circumstances (means test). If you are on a low income or in receipt of benefits such as Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance, you may qualify for Legal Aid. This will cover the costs of the following:
- The Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) for both parties
- The costs of the mediation sessions. Legal Aid will also cover the costs of the first hour of mediation for your ex if they don’t qualify for Legal Aid.
- The drafting of a parenting plan and/or an open financial statement and memorandum of understanding. These documents summarise the proposals made at mediation, which can then be used to ask a solicitor to create a legally binding agreement (consent order).
What does a means test for Legal Aid involve?
The means test assesses if a claimant qualifies for Legal Aid to cover their legal costs. If you have an interest in assets that are in dispute, such as the family home, the value of your assets exceeding £100,000 will be included in the financial eligibility check. If you are working, then your gross monthly income should be less than £2,657, and if you have more than four child dependants, you can add £222 to this figure. You cannot have more than £733 per month in disposable income, or more than £8,000 in savings.
Do all law firms offer Legal Aid?
No, in fact most law firms do not offer family law services that are Legal Aid funded. So even if you were eligible for Legal Aid, that does not mean that the law firm of your choice will be able to represent you. Often they will not. It would be worth looking at law firms that openly state that they offer Legal Aid. If they do not state this, in most cases they will not offer it.
What are the other options if you can’t get legal aid for divorce?
If you can’t get legal aid, you might be able to get other help to pay for legal advice, including:
- Free/low cost advice from a caseworker or solicitor in a law centre
- Up to 30 minutes free advice from a solicitor
- Pro bono (free) advice from a solicitor, although this tends to be in high profile cases and is rare in separation and divorce cases
- Free (pro bono) advice from a volunteer barrister
- Representing yourself
- Legal costs loans – these are provided by lenders who work with family lawyers to fund legal costs
- Get a 0% interest credit card – shop around and find the one offering the most favourable terms for you
- Seek advice from local Citizens Advice Bureau
- Ask your solicitor if a payment plan can be agreed
- Apply for a Legal Services Payment order (LSPO) (see below)
- Paying less for court fees (see below)
As with all loans and credit, you need to ensure you can pay the monthly costs and are not simply kicking the can down the road with regards to affordability.
Can I get help with my court fees?
If you have a low income or are in receipt of benefits such as Universal Credit or income-based Employment and Support Allowance, you may qualify for help with your court fees (fee exemption). This is specifically to help cover the costs of court applications and will not cover any legal advice from a solicitor or other legal adviser.
What is a Legal Services Payment Order (LSPO)?
If you are a stay at home parent, for example, who is not eligible for Legal Aid, have no income or savings and cannot afford to be legally represented, then you may be eligible for an LSPO. This is a court order where one party to the marriage is ordered to pay the other a sum of money for the purposes of enabling them to obtain legal services. It can also be:
- A one-off lump sum payment
- Instalment payments
- Payment for a specific period
- Deferred/immediate payments
You can apply for an LSPO in the following: divorce, nullity application, financial remedy, or judicial separation, and will need to show the court that:
- You don’t have sufficient funds and your ex does
- You cannot get a litigation loan (evidence must be provided in the form of two rejection letters from two separate reputable lenders)
- You have been unable to enter an agreement with your solicitor where they deduct what is owed from the proceeds of any settlement (Sears Tooth agreement)
- You cannot charge any property you own
- You are not entitled to legal aid
Divorce can be a particularly difficult time, and things can be complicated when you are unfamiliar with the process involved. It is important to remember you are not alone and support is available in many forms, as discussed here. If you explore all the options open to you carefully, you may find a way that works for you.
Find The Best Divorce & Family Lawyers Near You
We independently review and list the top divorce lawyers and family solicitors in the towns and cities near you. 100% free.
The information on this website is to be considered a guide and is therefore not legal advice. You use this information with the understanding that Wiselaw does not accept liability for any direct or indirect losses as a result of anyone relying on or acting upon the information on this website. Whilst we endeavour to provide accurate information, Wiselaw does not accept liability for any errors or omissions on this website.