The expert family law solicitors at Higgins Miller are used to working with people going through stressful circumstances such as those surrounding adoption, interactions with social services or administering wills and probate. We know just how stressful events of this kind can be, and we also appreciate the financial concerns which many people express when they find themselves having to take legal advice. Our understanding of how difficult this can make things is just one of the reasons why we take great pride in offering legal aid divorce services.
In recent years the number of cases for which legal aid is available has been dramatically reduced. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which was introduced in 2012, removed legal aid from virtually all private family law cases, for example. According to published figures, the number of number of civil law cases in which applicants received legal aid stood at 785,000 in 2010-11. By 2017-18, this number had dropped to 140,000. The reduction in cases for which legal aid is available has led to many law firms refusing to undertake legal aid work under any circumstances, even those in which a legal aid divorce might be available.
This decision on the part of so many law firms has created a situation in which, in some parts of the country, legal aid is simply no longer an option. Here at Higgins Miller we feel very strongly that the law should be available for all, and that the inability to pay shouldn’t be an impediment to gaining the very best legal advice. That’s why, unlike the majority of law firms, we continue to undertake work paid for using legal aid, and that includes some legal aid divorce cases.
As well as working with legal aid applicants we do our best to create payment plans which take the stress out of accessing legal support. Many of our services are provided on a fixed fee basis, so clients pay only for what they need, and can access the expert help required without the stress of worrying about fees spiralling out of control. At the very least, clients who come to us can access initial advice for free or for a fixed fee, and if they do decide to work with us we do everything we can to keep costs as low as possible. Our commitment to working on cases such as legal aid divorce highlights the degree to which we are driven by a desire to make legal representation as accessible as possible.
As stated, legal aid divorce cases are now the exception rather than the rule, after legal aid provision was removed from the overwhelming majority of family law cases. Amongst other things, this has led to a huge rise in the number of people representing themselves in the Family Court, where a lack of legal training and expertise, allied to the inevitable emotional engagement in the case, has led to many cases involving ‘litigants-in-person’ proving to be extremely difficult to resolve. Although legal aid was removed from most divorce cases, it is still available for a few, and our expert lawyers can offer advice on whether clients in divorce cases are eligible for legal aid, and explain exactly what the criteria for legal aid divorce cases are.
Legal aid divorce cases can only happen in exceptional circumstances, which include the applicant being a victim of domestic violence. The definition of domestic violence used in the legislation includes physical threats and violence as well as controlling and coercive behaviour, but in order to qualify for legal aid, the applicant has to produce evidence to prove that domestic violence has taken place. This evidence could include the following:
- Evidence that the other party has been arrested for a domestic violence offence
- A police caution for a domestic violence offence
- Ongoing criminal proceedings for a domestic violence offence
- A conviction for a domestic violence offence
- Evidence that the other party has been served with a domestic violence protection notice
- Police bail for a domestic violence offence
- A protective injunction taken out against the other party
- A letter from an appropriate health professional stating that in their judgement the applicant has or had injuries or a condition consistent with being a victim of domestic violence
- A letter from an independent domestic violence advisor
- A letter from a local authority or housing association
- Evidence such as bank statements or text messages which indicates that financial abuse and/or control has taken place
There are other circumstances that could make an application for a legal aid divorce case possible, and these include allegations of child abuse and forced marriage. In all cases, similar levels of proof are needed in order for an application to be successful, and our legal aid experts will be able to talk clients through their options, explain whether an application is likely to succeed and assist in making sure that the application is submitted in the correct manner. Our decision to continue taking on legal aid cases is a reflection of our commitment to offering the best possible legal help to as many clients as possible. We’ll work to make sure that every legal aid divorce case we take on is handled in a supportive, comprehensive and highly efficient manner. If you want to find out more about legal aid divorce or other aspects of seeking a divorce please call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected] We’ve recently passed our Cyber Essential accreditation, something which demonstrates our forward-thinking attitude and determination to remain ahead of the competition. The first 20-minute appraisal is provided free of charge, and we’ll give you the first appointment for a fixed fee, so you don’t have to worry about how much our advice is going to cost. This initial meeting can ensure that you understand why social services have made contact and can feel able to move forward with confidence. If you want to explore our wider charging system then please take a look here.