The BBC reported last week that breaking up is getting even harder to do for couples nowadays. They attribute one of the causes as being the changes in the legal aid system brought about from April 2013.
Essentially legal aid is now no longer available for assistance with a Divorce or separation other than in limited circumstances, namely where there are victims of domestic violence. Parties wishing to divorce or separate their financial assets will now have to pay privately for advice and assistance from a Lawyer.
However, it is very important to remember that Legal Aid is still available for Family Mediation - a process that is aimed at constructively resolving family disputes amicably and without the need for the involvement of courts. However, in order to access aid, parties must be assessed to be eligible through means testing.
There are reports from mediation experts that an unintended consequence of the changes to Legal Aid is a drop in the number of couples choosing to go through mediation and an increase in couples going straight to court to divorce or resolve financial matters themselves without legal advice or representation. Indeed, Ministry of Justice figures suggest that the number of couples accessing mediation has fallen by 47% since the legal aid cuts came in to force in April 2013.
Couples may either be unable to afford the expert legal advice they need or are no longer being referred to mediation by solicitors.
Separation can be a stressful time not least because of the question of how much it will cost. At Slater and Gordon there are many options for those wishing to separate without breaking the bank, including fixed fee services for mediation, divorce and resolving financial matters. We can offer expert professional advice and support on an affordable basis.
By Family Law Paralegal Munia Mahreen