Q. My husband and I have split up and we have three children. My husband runs a successful family business. We have led a comfortable lifestyle but since we split, he has completely cut me off financially. I do not work and have no income of my own. I need legal advice but I cannot afford a lawyer. Now that there is no such thing as legal aid, how can I best protect my interests?
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 that came into effect in April 2013, effectively removed legal aid for the majority of family law cases. It is now only proven victims of domestic violence, or cases concerning challenging care orders being imposed by local authorities that remain eligible for legal aid. Therefore, most people will have to pay legal bills from their own pocket.
This is a difficult position that people from all walks of life find themselves in. It sounds like your situation could become quite complex, particularly if the separation is acrimonious. Professional advice is crucial. There is no cheaper alternative to appointing a solicitor, other than going it alone. Many people do feel comfortable dealing with their divorces and financial settlements without legal assistance. However, there are risks which can be significant. In contentious divorces where there are factors like yours to consider (i.e. a family business and significant assets) the risks become even larger.
The lack of public funding or legal aid as it was commonly referred to, should not put you off confronting your matrimonial breakdown. Burying your head in the sand can cause more problems further down the line resulting in higher legal bills than were perhaps necessary at the outset.
There are various options available to minimize the costs burden.
- Your solicitor can organise mediation appointments for you to help you reach a settlement out of court. If both you and your husband are willing to attend and your solicitor advises you that your case is appropriate, this can significantly reduce costs as it can be quicker and more effective to negotiate in person rather than via solicitors’ correspondence.
- To assist with the payment of the costs of general family litigation, your solicitor will be able to give you information about available credit options such as litigation loans. Please note that a solicitor is not permitted to give financial advice and so you must seek independent financial advice.
- In some cases, solicitors may be prepared to agree with their client that payment will be made at the conclusion of the case when the payment of legal bills can be made out of the financial settlement awarded to the client.
- Have you approached family members for financial assistance at this difficult time? Many people find this to be the best solution when family members are willing and able to help.
- In some cases, a spouse is willing to volunteer funds to assist his/her spouse if they are in a stronger financial position. This is quite rare.
- If your spouse will not volunteer funds and none of the above options are available to you, you could ask the court to make an interim order for regular payments from your husband to you throughout the financial proceedings in order to help you pay legal costs. The court can, in some cases, order one spouse to make payments to the other specifically for legal costs. The downside is that there are extra legal costs involved in making this application to court. It is possible to claim those costs back from your spouse, if the court so awards.
Each of these options (and the list is not exhaustive) are case specific and so we would highly recommend that you speak to a solicitor to see what your options are.