Can I get Legal Aid for my divorce?
The cost of divorce can be a barrier for many people to start proceedings. There is a lot to think about: the divorce application, sorting out child arrangements, and what happens to finances, assets, and property. If you are unable to afford the fees associated with divorce or separation, it may be possible to get some financial support via Legal Aid.
Since 2012, Legal Aid was cut for most family law related disputes, but not family mediation. This included divorce and dissolution. There is currently no Legal Aid available for this, unless you are a victim of domestic abuse, there is a risk of child abduction, or you are faced with homelessness.
If you or your children have been victims of domestic abuse then you may qualify for Legal Aid. It is important that you are able to evidence this. Domestic abuse includes emotional abuse, such as controlling and coercive behaviour, physical violence, and financial control. It can be difficult to evidence domestic abuse, but you can ask the following to help you provide evidence:
- The police
- A MARAC (A multi-agency risk assessment conference)
- Social services
- Health professionals, such as a doctor, a midwife, a nurse, or health visitor
- A women’s refuge
- Domestic abuse support services
- Your employer, university, college, or training provider
Civil Legal Advice
As part of your divorce or separation you may be looking for legal advice. Again, this comes at a cost. Through Civil Legal Advice (CLA) you may be able to receive legal advice as part of your Legal Aid. You will need to show your CLA adviser evidence of domestic abuse as above.
Help with Fees
If you receive benefits, such as Universal Credit or income-based Employment and Support Allowance, or you are on a low income, then you may qualify for “Help With Fees”. This is a specific financial support to cover the costs of court applications. You can check if you qualify on the government website here – https://www.gov.uk/get-help-with-court-fees
Legal Aid for Family Mediation
It is important to remember at this stage that applying directly to Court for a child arrangements order or a financial order as part of your divorce is not your only option. You can use family mediation. In fact, it is usually a legal requirement to attempt Family Mediation before making an application to Court for a child arrangements or financial order. There are exemptions to this requirement, such as domestic abuse. The same rules of evidence apply. However, it may be that your mediator says that mediation is unsuitable due to domestic abuse without the requirement of evidence. We have written extensively on the exemptions to the requirement here.
A family mediator will support you to reach a mutual and amicable agreement about how to move forward with your divorce. This covers things like child arrangements and financial arrangements. It is a cheaper and quicker process than going through the Courts.
Unlike legal advice and representation as above, there is Legal Aid available for mediation. This is solely dependent on your financial circumstances. If you are receiving a passporting welfare benefit, such as Universal Credit, or a low income, then you may qualify for Legal Aid.
Direct Mediation Services are contracted with the Legal Aid Agency and so are able to offer our services at no cost if you qualify.
Legal Aid for family mediation will cover the costs of the following:
- The Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) for both you and your ex-partner.
- The costs of your mediation sessions. Your Legal Aid will also cover the costs of the first hour of mediation for your ex-partner if they do not qualify for Legal Aid in their own right. Your ex-partner, if they do not qualify for Legal Aid, may be able to receive funding for child arrangement matters using the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme.
- The drafting of your parenting plan, and/or open financial statement and memorandum of understanding. These are legal documents that your mediator will provide that summarise the proposals made at mediation. You can use these documents to ask a solicitor to create a legally binding agreement, known as a consent order.
To apply for Legal Aid, you will need to contact our office who will send you out a short form, where you will detail your financial situation and provide any relevant evidence. If your Legal Aid application is successful, your mediator will claim their costs from the Legal Aid Agency.
Further legal advice/representation
As well as Civil Legal Advice, you can also get free or low-cost legal advice from other organisations, such as:
- Law Centre (your local law centre may be able to support you. You can find your nearest Law Centre here https://www.lawcentres.org.uk/about-law-centres/law-centres-on-google-maps/alphabetically)
- LawWorks (free legal advice clinics who may be able to provide you with advice on divorce and family law. You can find your nearest clinic here: https://www.lawworks.org.uk/legal-advice-individuals/find-legal-advice-clinic-near-you)
- RCJ Advice (part of the Royal Courts of Justice, RCJ advice can offer free legal support. You can find out more here https://www.rcjadvice.org.uk/contact/contact-family/ )
- Citizens Advice (your local citizens advice may be able to provide procedural support and signpost you to a free legal advice service in your area, or to a solicitor who offers a free consultation: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/about-us/contact-us/contact-us/contact-us/)
- University Law Clinics (lots of universities in England and Wales run law clinics. You should check your nearest university to see if they provide this).
Whilst it can be daunting, don’t forget that you can represent yourself at Court. This is becoming increasingly common in child arrangement disputes. It is less so relating to financial arrangements and it is encouraged that you receive some legal advice when making decisions around your finances.
There is no doubt that court proceedings in relation to divorce are a costly process, but there is potentially support available to you. A top tip is to try mediation first, as there is accessible funding available and, even as a private client, it usually works out cheaper than asking the Courts to decide.
If you would like further information on family mediation and the financial support available, you can contact our friendly team on 0113 468 9593.
Want to known more about family mediation?
You can call Direct Mediation Services on 0113 4689593, email firstname.lastname@example.org or complete the form below for a free call back.
By completing this form you consent to Direct Mediation Services holding the information you provide us about you in accordance with our Privacy notice. By submitting your email address and telephone number to us you consent to us contacting you in order to enable us to deal with your query. Calls may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How can I get legal advice and representation funded by legal aid for my divorce?
Since 2012, legal aid is only available for legal advice and representation in divorce proceedings if you are a victim of domestic abuse. If you have experienced domestic abuse then you can apply for legal aid.
2. How do I prove that I have been a victim of domestic abuse?
There are different ways that you can do this. If you have had police involvement for domestic abuse then you can provide evidence of the police crime reference number. You can also evidence domestic abuse by using a letter from your GP, or from your domestic abuse case worker. For support, you can contact national domestic abuse charities, such as Women’s Aid, who will be able to provide you with free support.
3. Can I get any free legal advice or representation if I am not a victim of domestic abuse?
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to get any legal aid where you are not a victim of domestic abuse. However, that does not mean that you cannot access support. Citizens Advice can be a good place to start to explore your options. Free legal advice is available from the Law Centre, or from local University Legal Advice Clinics. Some solicitors also offer free 30 minute sessions where you can get some advice on your dispute.
4. Is Legal Aid available for Family Mediation?
Yes! Whilst Legal Aid is not readily available in relation to legal advice and representation, it is for domestic abuse. You may qualify for Legal Aid if you receive welfare benefits or a low income.
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