Legal Aid was abolished for most couples to help pay for legal advice for the financial side of divorce – in England and Wales. So who can still get it? Find out who gets Legal Aid help to pay the costs of divorce.
Legal Aid in England and Wales
If you’re getting divorced, no matter what your financial situation, you cannot get any state help (in the form of Legal Aid) to help pay legal fees for legal advice or representation if you live in England. Instead you will be able to get Legal Aid help with mediation, although this is means tested.
Mediation is an informal negotiation process and while it can work for many couples, it’s not suitable for everyone (especially if there’s a significant ‘power’ imbalance or dishonesty). Some lawyers believe couples — particularly women — will lose out.
SAVVY TIP: You may be able to get Legal Aid help with legal fees for your divorce if domestic abuse or child abduction are involved.
Who does this affect?
Legal Aid was available for help with legal fees before April 2013. The decision to withdraw Legal Aid for divorcing couples disproportionately affects women, especially if the wife hasn’t worked or is on a modest income.
If you want to go to court
If you want to go to court you’ll have to go on your own — i.e. without legal representation, if you can’t afford to pay for a solicitor. This is called being a litigant in person.
Citizens Advice Bureau and other legal help charities may be able to assist and you would be entitled to get a McKenzie friend to help (often a non legal expert) who can assist with taking notes and/or suggesting questions to ask.
Lump sum orders for costs
One piece of good news is that from April 2013 courts have been able to make what’s called an ‘interim lump sum order for costs’. This means the courts can ask husbands or wives to pay a lump sum to their spouse so they can continue to pay legal costs.
Legal Aid in Scotland
Legal Aid is still available to pay legal fees if you get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership. Your income and capital will be assessed, unless you are on certain benefits (such as Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-based Employment and Support Allowance).
You can find out more information about Legal Aid in Scotland from the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
Legal Aid in Northern Ireland
Legal Aid may be available to pay towards the costs of divorce. In order to get it, you have to be on certain benefits or have a low income. You will normally have to repay the Legal Aid you have received. If you receive money from your ex husband, wife or civil partner, you are able to keep the first few thousand pounds and the rest may be used to repay your Legal Aid. You will not be forced to sell your property but a charge may be put on it. You can find out about Legal Aid in Northern Ireland on the NI Direct website.
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