divorce and legal advice

For most people, when they walk down the aisle, Divorce is the last thing on their mind. The wedding was tricky enough to plan, but the separation or divorce, well that’s even more complicated.  You may have had some stress when you tied the knot, but untying it, well that’s another story and one which may require legal intervention in the form of a firm of Family Solicitors, McKenzie Friend or a bloody good book!

Being a Family Lawyer is pretty lucrative as apparently 48% of marriages end in divorce for a variety of reasons.  From affairs or domestic abuse, to unreasonable behaviour in the form of alcoholism or using recreational drugs; marriages can last a few months right up to many years. 

It is well documented that the Family Courts are in chaos. As of 1st April 2013, Legal Aid for divorce cases in England and Wales was withdrawn by the government. Legal Aid funding is not allowed for divorce or family law cases unless the party applying is a victim of domestic violence. The rules are very strict and it’s all means tested. In many cases, the applicant has to be on what’s termed a “passporting benefit”, which is a benefit the applicant is receiving purely because they have no assets or other income. 

With legal aid unobtainable for the majority, this leaves many people acting as LIP’s (Litigant in Person) in the courts and with very little legal knowledge, Judges are left guiding these poor folks through court cases where they don’t have the correct paperwork and documents or through cross-examining their ex. It’s sheer courtroom drama.

Starting from the bottom up, for those who have very little income, there are practices which are run by Mackenzie Friends. These are people who can accompany someone to their court case, to help them as they are a LIP and unrepresented by a Solicitor or Barrister. The Mckenzie Friend can sit in the courtroom with the LIP and offer support and advice as well as taking notes. They can also very quietly provide divorce legal advice. 

There are a few things that a McKenzie Friend is unable to do. They cannot conduct litigation; this has to be done by the LIP and neither can they file court documents or statements. If you want further information on this, there is a Practice Direction issued by the Family Courts.  

McKenzie friends are experts at supporting children and their families to help resolve their family conflict and whilst some are lay-people with years of experience, others may be professionally trained, have a law degree or other professional qualification or they may even be a qualified paralegal. There are some family law solicitors who have had a “calling” to move into being a McKenzie Friend as they are just so disillusioned with the profession and the mess the courts are in. 

They want to help those in need. Disputes range from Finance Dispute Resolution to Child Access and there are many McKenzie Friends in The Hug Directory. 

Solicitors and Barristers. Where do you start?

The best thing is to call a couple in your area and have a chat about possible divorce legal advice. Most will offer a free 30/45-minute face to face consultation. It’s really important that client and legal representative get along and that there is some kind of rapport. The client needs to feel that they are being heard. If you have a face to face appointment, be ready with anything you may need to take with you such as marriage certificates, children’s birth certificates (if you don’t have them you can apply for copies online) and ID such as a driving licence and/or passport. Ask the Solicitor if the 30 minutes can be about listening to you and not getting these things in order. Documents can be dealt with by a legal secretary. Don’t allow the free time to be wasted.

Of course, there are different levels of Solicitors, but this doesn’t mean one is better than another. In London you may find yourself looking at fees of around £850 per hour if the team are only dealing with High Net Worth clients. On the outskirts and elsewhere in the country you might be able to find £150 per hour or a package deal. Some firms will give set prices for certain tasks, but beware, because if you are in a particularly tricky divorce, these “packages” will run over and you will have excess charges added on for things such as a final hearing. Let’s face it, if you have to go through the court process, things are not going to be easy. In the grand scheme of things, with all the divorces that happen in the UK, not many actually end up in court as couples want to sort things out amicably and in the cheapest way possible.

It used to be the case that you had to have a solicitor to instruct a Barrister but now anyone can go directly to a Barrister without having to involve anyone else (such as a Solicitor). The Barristers role stays the same, as if they were instructed by a solicitor or other intermediary. They will advise you on your legal rights. However, you need to find a “Direct Access Barrister”. Often McKenzie Friends have contacts. Usually a Direct Access Barrister can still draft and send documents for a client. This is with regards to family law. In other types of cases a solicitor needs to be instructed to contact a barrister, so do seek legal advice for your particular case or speak to a Direct Access Barrister for their thoughts on your particular circumstances. 

If you are forced into being a LIP, there are many books which can help with the process. Don’t forget to use The Group Hug forum as a tool to talk about things which others may have been through. You are not alone and many cases have been highly successful with a LIP at the helm; at the end of the day, you have the truth in your head and you know what happened as you were there. Judges are obliged to help LIP’s in court as they stumble through the complex court process. If you are in the courtroom unrepresented, don’t be afraid to ask questions and tell the court that you do not understand. It’s not your fault that legal aid was scrapped. You are entitled to a fair case. 

There are also a number of charities who may be able to offer legal advice, so do check them out on our resources page.