If you are currently entitled to legal aid and considering divorce, now would be a good time to act. A new legal aid bill, which comes into force in April next year, axes legal aid for family law disputes save those involving domestic abuse.
Over the weekend, The Guardian has reported on how this will impact on less well-off families. Spouses may struggle to resolve financial or children disputes without the benefit of advice from a family law specialist. The President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall, recently raised concerns that family disputes will be increasingly difficult for judges to resolve, when there is no legal representation for parties at court.
Whilst we do not offer a legally aided service, we frequently speak to spouses or cohabitants who are worried that whilst their partner can afford to pay for legal advice, they cannot. Understandably, there is concern that they would be ‘out-gunned’ if unable to agree matters amicably. This can often seem very unfair, particularly if, because of family choices in happier times such as one party being a home maker, there is unequal access to family income or savings, to fund a divorce.
Although greater emphasis will quite rightly be placed on alternative methods of dispute resolution (mediation or collaborative law), these are not always appropriate if, for example, there has been physical or emotional abuse. In any event, these methods must also be funded, and can themselves be costly.
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Whilst currently it is not possible for the court to order an interim lump sum to be paid by one spouse to another (to help fund interim expenses such as legal costs), the new bill includes such provision. This would help hugely in redressing the balance between spouses’ interim financial positions.
If you don’t want to wait for the bill to come into force next year, there are other options if you are worried about funding your legal costs. It is possible to apply for an interim maintenance order forcing your spouse to pay maintenance prior to settlement of all your financial claims on divorce, which includes an element of funding for legal fees. Alternatively, some banks offer ‘litigation loans’; personal loans made for the purpose of funding a divorce repayable when your settlement is received.