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Effect of legal aid on divorces

The changes to legal aid which came in in April 2013 mean that it will, from now on, not be available in 120,000 divorce cases every year apart from those where domestic violence can be proved. The change means that more couples are likely to look to other methods of sorting out their divorce in as practical a way as possible, without having the need to take the case directly to court.

Alternatives to court

With legal aid no longer an option for most divorcing couples, they will be anxious to avoid taking their grievances to court and will be hoping to explore viable options for a relatively inexpensive divorce.

  • Mediation

Mediation is now a formal part of the divorce process in England & Wales. Couples going through a divorce who need or wish to litigate must agree to undertake family mediation before proceeding to court.  The My-Mediation service offers family mediation in Leeds and West Yorkshire

  • Websites

Getting a divorce online is growing in popularity and the ending of legal aid may persuade more to go down this route. It is believed that three out of every 10 couples choose websites as a way of arranging a divorce.

One of the main websites is Quickie-divorce.com which was formed six years ago and is used by about 15,000 people every year. A standard service provides all the paperwork needed along with guidance notes while, for a more expensive service, it completes the papers and sends them to court. The Co-operatives legal services site also provides a divorce service. However, for these two websites and others, it is important to note that they will only be useful in uncontested divorces with no areas of contention. If there are any unresolved areas related to finances or the children, you will need to take legal advice on how best to sort them out.

It should also be noted that all divorces have to end up in court eventually because it is only here that first the decree nisi and then the decree absolute which formally ends the marriage, are issued. Therefore, those couples using a divorce website should note that there will also be court fee of £350 on top of what they have to pay via the website.

This will still however be much cheaper than a full court hearing where a judge will hear the arguments on both sides and deliver a ruling. In these cases bills of £15,000 for each side could result, so it is not surprising that these are relatively rare and, with legal aid having been abolished, will be rarer still now with only the very wealthy likely to go down this route.

  • Law firms

Some law firms now offer fixed-fee deals for those wanting legal advice but who are watching the cost. This can be a more suitable alternative to the websites in that there is a human element and it is more appropriate where perhaps there are some issues which need to be resolved before the divorce can be finalised.

These firms can also be useful for talking people out of potentially bad deals. Between the two parties there may be the danger that one side is pressurised into agreeing something which, on reflection, is not in their interests. Having a law firm involved would mean that both sides would be more prepared to play by the rules and not prepare a deal which is obviously biased to one party over the other.  

  • Books

Some books also have useful guides to help those going through a divorce with information on sorting out their finances and how best to deal with the children. Again, books are useful up to a point, but won’t be much assistance if there are disagreements between the couple and will only be a guide to making a divorce as straightforward as possible.