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.

Is Alimony Still a Reasonable Concept?

Guest post from US family law bloggers.

Despite the salary inequalities that still persist between men and women, many modern-day wives are working alongside their husbands. Some women even earn more. You might wonder why we still have alimony, where the ex-husband pays a monthly sum to the ex-wife. Some people argue that alimony should be a thing of the past, while others feel that it’s still an valid law.

An important point that can’t be overlooked when discussing the relevancy of alimony in today’s culture is that it is not necessarily the responsibility of the husband. Alimony is a court-ordered duty of the top earner in the marriage. The difference in the earnings of the two spouses has to be significant for alimony to be decreed. However, both historically and traditionally, the male has been the one to pay the alimony bills. Judges have consistently awarded alimony to the female, even in cases where both ex-spouses had jobs during the marriage.

Today, many family court justices are working on adapting the law so that alimony isn’t set up as an unfair burden on men, but as a fair distribution of martial property.

How did alimony come to be? In the past, women were not allowed to own property. Thus, in a marriage, all the land and property were owned solely by the husband and never the wife. And in cases of divorce, the ex-husband would keep everything and the ex-wife would be left with nothing. Alimony was established as a way for the ex-wife to be able to survive after divorce.

Obviously, the circumstances have changed today. Martial property is usually divided equally between two parties in a divorce and if there are children, the home is often given to the ex-wife on the grounds that it would be less traumatic for the kids. The more you look at it, the more it seems like alimony should become obsolete.

On the other hand, you could argue that women are still at a disadvantage after a divorce. Even today, many wives choose to leave the workforce in order to stay home and raise children. Some of them move across the country when their husband gets a new job and leave their career behind. After years and years of contributing to the marriage through raising kids, taking care of the home, and managing the finances, should these women be left with no career prospects and no monthly income when divorce happens? Alimony helps level the playing field and allows these women to continue living on as they have before.

What about husbands who took on the stay-at-home role? They probably would benefit from alimony payments from their ex-wives as much as a woman would.

An important issue to consider is whether the ex-husband should be legally required to pay alimony for the rest of his life. Should the sentence of alimony be reduced to a certain amount of years instead, with the purpose of providing support to the women until she is able to enter the workforce and earn enough money to maintain her lifestyle?

Alimony will become a much more acceptable and fair concept if it truly becomes an equal opportunity responsibility.

About the author

This piece was written by Trevor Patterson, a freelance writer and blogger based in the greater metro area of Las Vegas, Nevada. Patterson focuses on law, politics, economics and real estate. Legal needs come in various forms; for those with needs in the area of Pedestrian Accidents be sure to consult a professional with sufficient expertise in this subfield.

Guidelines for Being Awarded Alimony

divorceWhen two people decide that it is time for them to end their marriage and get a divorce, the idea of alimony payments is always brought up. Alimony is a monthly financial payment from one spouse to support the other after a marriage ends. Alimony payments were historically made from the husband to the wife, the idea being that the husband was the one who worked and the wife would be the one to stay home and raise children. Since the ’70s there has been a movement in the other direction towards equality, and today where many wives support stay-at-home husbands, alimony is paid both ways.  This is determined by assessing the financial situation of each person involved and after taking into account certain factors concerning the marriage. Here are the guidelines that are followed to determine who is awarded alimony after a divorce.

Determining Who Has the Ability to Earn an Income

The main factor that is taken into consideration when it is determined which person will pay alimony is the ability to earn an income. Alimony used to be easier to determine when there was only one earner in a marriage, but in today’s world it’s far more difficult. In many cases, both members of the marriage have good careers and earn their own income, but they still wish to be awarded alimony. It can be difficult to discern which party needs the extra income. When there is only one person with an ability to earn a living because the other spouse gave up a career to raise children, then that person would be the one who would be required to pay alimony. The court also takes each person’s ability to earn a future income into consideration, so if a stay-at-home wife left a successful career, that would also count.

Determining Who Has the Ability to Pay Alimony

In some cases, neither spouse earns an income, but instead live off of a passive income. Lotto winnings, a trust fund, income from investments, or savings are all examples of passive income. In these cases, the person who the money belongs to is the one who has the ability to pay alimony, even though they are not actively earning an income.

Standard of Living and Length of the Marriage

One of the big factors of a divorce is making sure each person has the ability to maintain the same standard of living that they had during the marriage. A high standard of life would need to be maintained for each person, which would result in higher alimony payments.

The amount of time the marriage lasted is also a major factor. If a week-long marriage ends in divorce, then there would not be a significant amount of alimony paid out. However, if a marriage lasted over 10 years the amount of alimony would be significant.

It can be difficult to see your marriage come to an end, but even worse is being in a situation where you give up your career and dedicate your life to one person only to end up divorced with no form of income. Alimony is designed to protect people from situations like that, and the first step to getting alimony is to know the guidelines that are followed when determining who is awarded alimony.

If you are going through a divorce and you think you will have to pay alimony or are hoping to receive alimony payments, contact a lawyer who can advocate for you.  Charles R. Ullman & Associates is a spousal support/alimony law firm located in North Carolina.  For more information about spousal support, visit the website at www.DivorceLawCary.com.

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.

Organizing Your Finances after Divorce

divorce and finances The process, as well as finalizing a divorce can be extremely hard on a person mentally. Facing possible financial ruin definitely adds to the stress. In general, most people lack the knowledge they in order to recover and move on financially. Knowing what to expect and how to handle it, is the only way to get through a divorce with your assets still intact. Surviving financially is especially important if you have children and other dependents.

 

How Divorce Impacts Your Money

Getting a marriage license is less than $50 in most states, but dissolving that union is going to cost much more than that. Even if the couple kept their finances separate and agreed to take their own money & assets and part ways amicably, the filing alone can be costly. If for some reason a mediator is needed, fees can go into the thousands. The situation only gets more complicated from there. Married people generally see an increase in wealth through their union, while divorced people lose 77% of their net value on average, according to DailyFinance.com. When children are involved, one spouse may end up owing child support or alimony which can greatly reduce their money left for all of their other independent expenses. On the other hand, the spouse who is supposed to receive child support or alimony may have a hard time getting their former partner to pay up. Additionally, divorce means splitting your assets and income while doubling the bills.

 

Take Action Before You Even File for Divorce

This is a very important step that could save you loads of money and time when the proceedings start. Once your partner knows you have filed, they may make every effort to hide money, transfer funds from mutual accounts to their own, and put away assets. Even if the judge rules against these actions, it’s going to be very hard to recover them, and waiting for a judgment could take a very long time. Smart actions for you to take include: getting copies of all financial statements, acquiring credit reports, and setting aside money for living expenses.

 

Restructuring Once the Divorce is Final

Here is where the real work begins. Getting back to stability once the divorce is finalized will be challenging, but possible. If you are paying child support or alimony to your ex-partner, it may take a while to adjust. Having your support payments drafted automatically from your checking account is the best way to handle it. This way there won’t be risk of forgetting to make payments, and there will be an electronic record of paying. Keeping other financial obligations simple for a while is advisable; now is not the time to go out and purchase high ticket items. The divorced person needs to be very forward thinking for at least the first year after separation; make plans for tax returns, stocks, and savings ahead of time. A well mapped out plan for paying existing and new bills will get you through it. This will put you on the path to rebuilding your financial worth. MoneySmart.gov has additional information on adjusting to the change in income and additional expenses spawned from divorce.