The biggest change in legal services for 70 years and no one knows

The clock is very much ticking for people in England and Wales to get legal aid in relation to most family law matters and the media seem not to be taking it seriously at all.

We are less than 8 weeks away, from the biggest change in the provision for legal services in 70 years and yet the media and printed press are silent.

Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders  Act, 2012, from  1st April this year, legal aid will no longer be available for most divorce, financial and private law children cases, such as disputes between parents over residence and contact arrangements for their children. Unless there has been domestic violence, people will either have to go to court on their own or find the money to pay lawyers,

The coalition government has introduced these changes in order to cut the legal aid budget by £350 million per year in accordance with their deficit reduction plan.

The result of this withdrawal will result in the overwhelming majority of people who are currently able to obtain and access legal advice and representation, no longer being able to do so and yet does the average person on the street have a clue what is going on?

Figures obtained from the Ministry of Justice under the freedom of information act showed that in 2011 34,000 people filed for divorce without representation. That figure represented % of all divorces. it does not deal with people who needed help with contact and residence cases, or financial disputes which make up the vast majority of cases in the courts.

Public funding will still be available for  people involved in public law children cases, for example proceedings where Social Services are involved with children. For those who financially qualify, there will also be funding for cases of domestic violence.

Currently it is estimated that 250,000 people per year receive family advice, assistance and representation under legal aid. It is anticipated that after the changes come in, this number will decrease to as few as 40,000 people. That means

 

The government hopes that the changes will not only cut the current £2.2 billion legal aid bill, but also encourage people to resolve matters more amicably through services such as mediation. This is all very well, but no one knows about it and the Government have not publicised the changes at all.

These cuts will limit access to justice for the majority of the population and could cause the courts to be full of people representing themselves as a result of not being able to afford legal representation.

The broadsheets have over the last year, published articles and the BBC have done a few small pieces about this, but the vast majority of people in the country do not read the Guardian.

The legal industry is only now noticing the growth of diy divorce websites, despite the earliest service having launched way back in 1999 and the concern that was recently expressed by the legal Ombudsman, that the legal aid changes will see a rise in people opting for cheaper, poor quality service out of concern that other options are unaffordable, is in fact misplaced. The majority of complaints to them relate to communication problems and costs issues.

However, the legal profession are a decade too late in raising this issue now in 2013 as online divorce websites such as Divorce-Online have been in existence since 1999, quietly and efficiently providing services to clients who cannot afford a solicitor. in 2012 Divorce Online accounted for 14 % of the unrepresented divorce market. In 2013 we anticipate that our market share will only increase as people are turned away from Solicitors offices and advice centres, because they cannot get low cost family law services.

The criticism from lawyers is that divorce websites are impersonal, don’t have insurance and can cause problems later on with finances etc. This simply is scaremongering by a profession who have spent the last decade, sitting in their gilded offices, overcharging and wondering why their core business was ebbing away.

Divorce-Online as a responsible and professional legal service, advises clients of their options and the consequences of any actions they take in a divorce in relation to how it may affect their finances in the future, but we don’t charge £200 pounds per hour or £20 a letter.

The current business model of the high street Solicitor is expensive and unaffordable for all but the wealthy and until firms can find ways to bring down the costs of providing services, innovative and disruptive websites like Divorce Online, RocketLawyer etc will steal a march as the new dawn approaches. Those who can provide low cost affordable services will flourish and the rest will merge or die.

The end of legal aid for divorce is nigh – All hail the rise of DIY

Online divorce is set to rise as legal aid cuts, mean it will no longer be available for divorce cases in April 2013.

The Government has cut legal help ( basic legal aid) and legal aid itself for most private law family cases unless there is an serious allegation of domestic violence.

That means people with little means such as single mothers, the unemployed, disabled people and low paid workers will have to either find free legal advice, at a time when the advice centres and Citizens Advice Bureau are themselves having their funding cut, or they will attempt to do it themselves with many of then using the internet to gather relevant information and forms.

Divorce-Online are the UK’s leading provider of “online divorce” services having dealt with over 100,000 cases since launching.

With the experience of handling such a large volume of cases, one would think that the service is impersonal and does not suit individual needs. This could not be further from the truth with many clients commentating on how good the communication is with the staff as they go through their divorce.

The key is that we have used technology to create a streamlined and efficient back office which allows us to process cases quickly and to communicate with our clients 24/7.

Each client is given their own secure client area where they can see progress on their case in real time, download documents and send and receive messages from their case workers.

So, when legal aid stops, there will be places people can turn and they will know that a good, low cost service is waiting for them.

Facebook and Divorce – Think before you post it

Using Facebook during a divorce carries a risk that you will post information that can be used against you during the proceedings.

If you are in the middle of a divorce, or are seriously considering filing for one, you should take a few moments to reflect on your relationship with some of your friends. Particularly your relationship with Facebook, as it may not prove to be much of a friend during your divorce.

For many people, Facebook and other types of social media, such as Twitter, are an essential part of communicating with your friends and family. You post important information and pictures, view posts from your friends, and use it as a means of tying together that network of competing interests and friends, many you may never have even seen since school

Permanent record

But you also do something else. You create a permanent record of your life in a timeline that can be seen by all. Unlike a text or an e-mail that can be deleted after the event, a facebook or Twitter post is there to stay and things said in the heat of the moment could come back to haunt you.

The immediacy of social media produces an unedited version of everything.

Think before you post.

Only think of it this way, “Anything you post on Facebook can and will be used against you in a divorce court.” A stupid post or tweet, made when you are upset, takes on a life of its own, and once the genie is out of the bottle, you may never be able to get it back in.

Something as innocent as pictures from a holiday or fancy dinner with your new “friend” could later be used to damage your credibility when it comes to issues of maintenance, child residence or the division of marital property. How many times have people been caught out saying they are broke, only to find they have posted pictures of themselves on a 5 star Caribbean beach holiday a few weeks before a final hearing. Evidence like that is going to go down a treat with a Judge, and it won’t be in your favour.

Think before you post

If you feel you must maintain your social media presence during a divorce, take a moment before you post to consider how it would look projected on a cinema screen for all and sundry to see and imagine the impression a casual viewer would get , before you press the submit button.

A recent survey in 2009 by Texas based divorce website Divorce-Online found that as many as 1 in 4 of petitions flowing through their systems had mentioned the word Facebook, highlighting, perhaps the ubiquitous nature of the platform to interject itself in our ever day lives.

Mark Keenan writes on subjects such as divorce and the effects of Social media

DIY Divorce could be the answer if you do it correctly

Divorce isn’t a subject which people tend to want to discuss very openly, but there comes a time when individuals have to make important decisions about how to live the rest of their lives. Getting a quick, smooth and painless divorce is preferable to a messy contested divorce case which could drag on for a long time and cost a lot of money.

Fortunately, if partners can reach agreement on a number of important issues then the divorce can be brought to an amicable end with relatively little expense, thanks to uncontested online divorce services.

The types of things which separating partners need to talk about might include custody of children, division of property, child support payments, other financial issues and even custody of pets of livestock. If they can reach agreements about these assets and responsibilities then it might be possible to get an uncontested online divorce at a fraction of the cost of the lawyer/solicitor route. Reaching agreement about these things in advance of getting divorce increases the chance of it being conducted in a civilised way.

Online divorce services are becoming increasingly popular, as couples look for a way to reduce the costs involved. Online divorce websites will supply paperwork and documentation which will then be completed by both parties. The most important part of this documentation will concern children or any other dependents. This could be related to custody or maintenance. Getting these documents in order is essential for securing a swift divorce.

There are some circumstances in which uncontested divorces are not suitable, such as when domestic violence is involved or one party doesn’t feel free to negotiate with their partner. Unless partners can discuss and negotiate with each other, uncontested divorces are impossible. Where agreement on these important matters cannot be reached, the services of divorce lawyers and solicitors may be useful. They can mediate communications and ensure that rational, reasonable negotiations take place.

It’s hard to put a price on divorce, as it depends on a wide range of different issues and the couple’s ability to reach agreement on them. An increasing number of people are choosing to take control of their divorce; by using online divorce services. Online Divorce websites can provide the paperwork and advice which helps couples to get a divorce quickly and smoothly. Once the Decree Absolute is issued the divorce is final and both parties can move forward and begin living the single life.