Inspiring separating couples to make their own informed decisions

Posts tagged ‘Legal aid’

Unbundling of Family Law Services

As a result of the legal aid cut backs, family solicitors are now ‘unbundling’ their legal services to meet the demands of the emerging client base that cannot afford to instruct Solicitors on a traditional retainer basis. Please read the update on the Law Society Website here.

For those of you who are going through the traumatic time of a family break up or are contemplating separation/divorce from your partner, the above news will be of help to you if you are worried about securing legal services that is affordable.

Effectively, unbundling allows you to obtain legal services on a pay as you go basis on areas of your case that you feel it is absolutely necessary for you get  legal advice and /or representation without having to instruct your solicitor to have full conduct of your matter on a formal full retainer basis.

There will have to be a clear understanding about what steps your solicitor is instructed to undertake on your behalf e.g. providing initial advice on law and procedure, ad hoc advice to help you represent yourself in Court proceedings or checking and drafting documents.  The case will  be ‘client-led’ as opposed to ‘solicitor-led’. This allows you to stay in control of your case and limits your legal costs moving forwards. So, your solicitor will offer legal services on what is known as a ‘partial retainer’. If you would like to find out more information about how this works in practice please see the Practice Note issued by the Law Society for Solicitors here.

This kind of service will only be suitable for those of you feel confident and competent to take control and charge of your case with bespoke services and support from your Solicitor.

If you are contemplating separation or divorce from your partner or you have already separated, I would suggest that you consider in the first instance, the services of a family mediator to reach your own informed decisions about property, finance and/or children.

Family mediation will prove to be a less  stressful  and a more dignified option to resolving your differences. It will limit both the financial and emotional costs of your break up. For more information visit the Family Mediation pages on my website.

Changes To Civil Legal Aid – No April Fool!

The damming family legal aid cuts are now in force as previously discussed in my post dated 23 November 2012; this is certainly no April fool!

For those of you who are dealing with family break up, it could not come at a worse time – not only are you going through probably one the most difficult and challenging experiences in your lifetime but you are now faced with the real possibility that you will have to deal with this crisis without the benefit of legal help if you are unable to pay for the services of a family solicitor and if you do not qualify for legal aid within the new ‘exceptional circumstances’ criteria as set out in the LASPO Act (Legal Aid,Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012).

BBC News has set out useful information in an article on the legal aid changes, answering key questions that will concern most of you who need legal help now or in the near future with matters arising in relation to civil and/or family law issues. Please see the BBC News article here.

Most people will no longer qualify for legal aid unless there are grave issues about child welfare and/or domestic violence/forced marriage and if the applicant for legal aid is within scope on the basis of the new financial test, covering both income and capital resourses.To see if you qualify for legal aid under the new scheme,please check out your position on the online eligibility calculator here.

If you do not qualify for legal aid and you cannot afford to pay for legal services, you may be able to get a ‘Legal Services Order’ from the Court. This new statutory provision, provides for an Order or Orders requiring one party to the marriage to pay the other (‘the applicant’) an amount for the purpose of enabling the applicant to get legal services for the benefit of the proceedings. To obtain such an Order you must satisfy the Court that you cannot secure a loan to pay for the help of a Solicitor and your Solicitor will not agree to postpone payment for their services until the end of the case from settlement funds i.e. by way of a ‘legal charge’ over the settlement funds.

In light of the legal aid cuts and the possibility of having to represent yourself in proceedings about your relationship break up, whether it be in relation to children arrangements or financial matters, it is now even more important that you give serious consideration to resolving your disputes via dispute resolution services like family mediation, where legal aid will still be in place for those who qualify under the new financial test.

For more helpful information please visit my ‘useful Links‘ page. The links will prove to be an invaluable resource to anyone who is forced to represent themselves in Court proceedings or negotiations with a Solicitor acting for the other party.

English: Gulfport, Miss., September 15, 2005 -...

Government’s New Sorting Out Separation App

Having to go through separation/divorce can be classed as one of the most stressful experiences in your lifetime.

Some would say that it is far more difficult to cope with than the bereavement of a close family member or friend – it is a ‘living bereavement’.

Whilst there are grave concerns about the impact of the cuts to family legal aid that come into force in April 2013, thankfully there is help at hand for those of you who will not qualify for family legal aid as a result of the cutbacks and cannot afford the services of a solicitor.

The Government has launched an online application/website  for separating couples to give you much needed help, support and guidance. It covers the following topics with useful contact information, tools, videos and links to help you make informed decisions after a break-up:

  • Children &  Parenting
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Legal
  • Money & Finance
  • Relationships & Conflicts
  • Work & Benefits

By answering a series of questions, the web app will give you a personalised action plan. Click here to check out the new sorting out separation web app.

However, where  you are unsure about your respective rights and responsibilities or where there are complex issues arising out of your separation, a word of caution, it is always sensible to get specialist legal advice. Many solicitors offer an initial fixed fee service, which can prove to be invaluable.

To help you and your ex-partner have a dignified and amicable separation allowing for future co-operative parenting, family mediation, when suitable, can be a better way of reaching out of court agreements.

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Damming Family Legal Aid Cuts

There has been a lot of media hype and genuine concern from professionals involved in the family sector and from couples facing family breakdown about the forthcoming legal aid cuts in April 2013.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the cuts, as of 1st April 2013 there will effectively be no legal aid for family matters on separation/divorce and related issues about property & finance and children’s arrangements unless there has been recent, proven domestic violence and/or there are significant child welfare/public child protection concerns.

There will however, continue to be legal aid for family mediation if you qualify for legal aid in line with the financial criteria as set by the legal services commission.

Whilst I’m a great supporter of dispute resolution out of Court, sadly it will not be suitable for every case and there will be many instances when the separating couple will have no choice but to sort out their differences through the Court system. As a result, unintentionally, the system will as of April 2013, be geared up in favour of those who can afford the services of a solicitor. Those that cannot, will be left to fend for themselves and will be at huge disadvantage, acting as a self represented person without the benefit of legal advice, assistance and representation.

Yes, there is talk of a family law hub, to be set up by the Government to help litigants who will be representing themselves but this will be of little use to those who do not have access to the internet and to people who cannot understand the information because they are less able either through a physical or learning difficulty. Or maybe, the person is just not emotionally/psychologically fit enough to conduct their own case . Litigation can be a daunting prospect for an expert family solicitor in complex family cases, let alone the client attempting to represent him or herself in Court.

As opposed to helping free up Court/Judiciary time, which is the intended desire of the Family Justice Review, the legal aid cuts will have a damming impact upon the Courts by clogging them with self representing litigants who will need more time and energy spent on them by the Judiciary to make sure that Justice is seen to be done and is done.

The sole reason for these legal aid cuts was to save the public purse £350 million from the legal aid budget. In spite of criticism from the President of the Family Division, Head of Family Justice, Sir Nicholas Wall ( in December 2011) the legal aid cuts have been endorsed by the Government. Unless there is a much needed U-turn, the legal aid cuts will come into effect in just over 4 months time.

In my humble opinion, I think that the Government has been short-sighted in its decision-making process. The Family Courts and Judiciary are already over stretched in dealing with the existing family caseload, where the parties continue to have the benefit of family legal aid and the support of their expert solicitors – I dread to think of the chaos and injustice that will be caused as of April 2013 when the damming family legal aid cuts come into effect.

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