With public funding, otherwise known as legal aid, being cut for family law cases including divorce, and only those involving domestic violence being exempt, this will inevitably have an effect on the way family matters are dealt with in the future. The government hopes that the changes will dissuade more couples from coming to court to try and cut costs and hopes there will therefore be more out of court settlements.
However, some in the legal profession fear that the reverse might actually be the case with more couples being unable to afford professional legal advice and, without the legal knowledge being available to them, more may refuse to settle. Depriving those in dispute of legal advice may also mean that the more dominant person in the partnership may seek to gain an advantage over the weaker one.
The public perception is already that the cost of divorce is too high but there are existing ways available to bring down the costs to an acceptable level.
Choosing a lawyer
Equally people assume that hiring a solicitor will add greatly to the cost, but again that cost can be brought down. Rather than going online to pick your way through a list of possible law firms or ringing the first one seen in the Yellow Pages, ask around your friends and family to see if they can recommend one who is good, who specialises in family law and who is not too expensive. This act alone can often save a great deal of money.
The best solicitors will be totally transparent on the question of costs and many firms offer a fixed fee service so you will know exactly at the outset what the expense will be. However, be aware also that, though some firms do offer fixed fees, that may only be for the divorce itself. They may though charge extra if issues arise such as financial or child residency disputes. So, be clear as to what the firm is offering and try and ensure there are no hidden extras.
Keeping down costs
If you can’t find a fixed fee package that is right for you, then agree a cap with a law firm, a limit beyond which no added costs will be incurred without consultation. However, the best way to cut costs of all is to keep a dialogue going with your former partner. If a separating couple are on speaking terms and are trying together to reach an amicable solution, this will give you the best possible chance of getting to a mutually satisfactory resolution and also keeping legal expenses down to a manageable level.
Try and look for legal firms that are signed up to Resolution’s Code of Practice, which promotes a non-confrontational approach to family law.
In addition, new methods are also increasingly being employed in an attempt to secure a settlement, such as mediation and arbitration. These are both forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution which are used to resolve disputes. They are more flexible than court proceedings and are also confidential, increasingly preferable to “airing dirty laundry in public” which can be the impression given by some couples in court.