Family Disputes on a Budget

18th June 2013

Separating from the person who you thought would be your life-partner is often stressful. In the current climate of cut backs and austerity measures, the anxiety you feel is heightened by thoughts of how you can afford legal advice to guide you through the issues at hand.

At Williscroft, we are dedicated to giving you the best possible service at the most competitive price. Here are our tips for minimising costs to ensure that the advice you receive is relevant to you and that the process you become involved in does not become more costly than it needs to be.

Free Advice

Take advantage of solicitors’ free advice clinics or thirty minutes’ private free advice. These sessions are often most helpful at the point of separation.  You will get basic advice setting out the things you need to consider and what the law says.

An explanation should be provided about how much your different options will cost and the time scales involved.

  • Get the most out of these sessions by taking a list of specific questions you want answered and a pen and paper to take some notes.
  • Taking a friend or relative is often helpful so that you have a second pair of ears and some emotional support if you require it.

To find out who offers this service in your local area you can use the Law Society’s ‘Find a Solicitor’ database:   www.lawsociety.org.uk/find-a-solicitor

Legal Aid

To bust the current myth, Legal Aid is still available to fund some family cases, subject to a means test.

There are some cases that automatically qualify for funding. These include,  but are not limited to:

  • non-molestation injunctions,
  • work to resolve international child abduction issues
  • cases where the person needing advice is under 18
  • issues around social services involvement with your family

If you fall outside of these areas ,  for example if you want a divorce, need to resolve child contact arrangements or need to finalise financial matters, then you need to satisfy the Legal Aid Agency’s  gateway criteria for evidencing domestic abuse, child abuse or exceptional circumstances.

Further information can be found at: http://www.justice.gov.uk/legal-aid-for-private-family-matters

Mediation

Mediation is an effective way of resolving disputes without the need to go to court- and can be much cheaper!

 A Mediator meets with both parties and through discussion helps you to come to an agreement. Legal Aid is still available for Mediation. You will need to be assessed financially to see if you are eligible.

Mediators do not take sides, are Independent of the courts or solicitors and are non- judgemental.

Even if private fees apply, Mediation is often cheaper than going to court, and it is much quicker.  Sessions are organised at your pace and tend to last over a 2 – 3 month period, there will be a minimum of 2 meetings – the majority of Mediations conclude in 3 meetings. You make the decisions and are back in control of your life.

Williscroft Mediation offers mediation privately and under Legal Aid.

Fixed Fees

If your budget is tight, use a Fixed Fee service for specific tasks. You can pay in advance for a consultation or an agreed piece of work e.g. attending at a court hearing or preparing a document.

  • The key is to decide which tasks you are able to undertake yourself and which you need a specialist to assist you with.
  • Read the leaflets /letters that are provided carefully  as these may answer your questions without needing the time of a lawyer.
  • Write down any questions you have for your lawyer and save them until you have 3 or 4 so that you can gain the most value from a telephone consultation.

While your case is ongoing, set aside a sum for legal costs each month so that you have a fund available should you need to consult your solicitor urgently.

Do it Yourself

Unfortunately for some there is no alternative but to do it yourself.

Application packs are often available at your local County Court attaching the court’s guidance on completing the application you wish to make.

  • Buy a  ring binder or a lever arch file and card dividers and keep all your letters, court documents and other documents in separate sections in date order.
  • If you have to attend court alone take notes with you to ensure that you raise all the issues you wish to put before the Judge. Do not be afraid to ask the judge questions - his/her role is to ensure that the hearing is fair and that justice is applied.
  • You may wish to consider taking a friend or family member with you to act as a ‘Mckenzie Friend’. They will not be able to speak in court but can assist in taking notes or passing papers to you. If they are going to be a witness for you, they will not be allowed into the court until after giving their evidence.

Author: Ruth Davison. Ruth works at Williscroft & Co and provides legal advice and mediation on all types of family cases. Williscroft & Co have a contract to provide legal aid but also offer a fixed fee service. They run a Thursday night free advice clinic at their Bradford Office and offer 30 minute free advice appointments at the Keighley office.

 

Contracted with the Legal Aid Agency. Regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Reg.No. 67202.

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