Family Law

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.

Family Law

The Impact of Legal Aid Changes on Family Law

Legal aid in England and Wales is changing and it will have a particular impact on family law. Legal aid aims to help those who require financial assistance to pay their legal fees but the government is cutting its annual spend in this areas by £350 million from April 2013. Legal aid will no longer be available to the vast majority of divorcing couples.

In recent years around 250,000 divorce cases a year have been funded by legal aid. The aim is to reduce this to 40,000, thus making significant savings. In most cases only those effected by domestic violence, abduction and forced marriage will be eligible to legal aid with the likelihood of receiving assistance coming down to finances. The reason for this is that in these cases going through the courts is usually the only way of proceeding whereas in other circumstances there are other options.

How Will This Impact Family Law?

It is difficult to predict the exact impact of these changes but there is little doubt there will be some changing trends within the family law sector.

With the lack of available legal aid the cost of taking a divorce case through the courts will significantly increase for many couples. It is hoped that this will result in mediation becoming more common place. Where this route is taken it leads to huge savings in solicitor’s fees and court fees. Expensive legal fees may put couples in a position where they feel there is no option but to go down the mediation route but it may, in the long run, also lead to a simpler, less stressful separation.

Another way that the legal aid changes could make an impact is by it leading to more people representing themselves in court. This is something many in the legal profession are concerned about as self-representation can end in disaster. Without the knowledge of the workings of a court it is very difficult to make a good legal case. This could, therefore, lead to not getting the result they are deserving of. This could be particularly problematic if one party can afford legal assistance and the other cannot. It has been claimed by some that wives who can’t afford to pay for legal assistance, but whose husbands can, will be impact the most (of course this can also happen in reverse). If one party is being legally represented and the other isn’t then it can make a fair outcome even more difficult to come by as it makes it more difficult for a court to assess the situation accurately.

One fear is that there could be an increase in poor quality legal assistance. Those unable to afford a good solicitor may have no choice but to pay for cheaper, and therefore lesser quality, legal assistance. A final possibility is that there could be a reduction in the number of couples getting divorced. It is difficult to say whether or not this will be the case, but if it is it could lead to some couples remaining in unhappy marriages as they see divorce as unaffordable.


It could be argued that an increase in the number of couples going through mediation would be a positive. But, in reality will this happen? Some in the legal profession have predicted that it will not, and people will instead proceed without legal assistance, therefore slowing down the process and making it more complex.

Contrary to popular belief, in many circumstances lawyers actually reduce the number of family law cases going to court at present. They encourage negotiation, something that is easier with legal representation as a separating couple do not have to go directly to one another. Lawyers also often play a part in managing expectations. As they understand the ins and outs of the industry they can be more realistic than their clients, as people don’t always see the boundaries of what is possible themselves.

About the author

This post was written by Andrew Marshall, a writer and internet marketer. Andrew works with a number of UK law firms across a wide range of legal sectors.

Divorce Law Family Law

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.

Family Law

Concerns Voiced Over Legal Aid Cuts and Family Law

Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of writing on the subject of the pending April 2013 legal forms. These so-called ‘Jackson reforms’ will come into place at the beginning of Q2 next year and will affect a number of areas of law, including family law. The effect it will have on family law however, is a more indirect one. While much of the changes will be felt as ripples through the personal injury sector in a very direct sense, the pending cuts to the Legal Aid bill are the main effect which will be felt by families who depend on its financial aid and free legal advice.

The current budget for the Legal Aid bill stands at £2.2 billion and the government would like to see it cut by £350 million from that annual total. This is a particular problem for personal injury as these types of cases will not be going back onto the bill in spite of the abolition of the no win no fee arrangement. In the instance of family law, many family law cases which might have sought to get help from Legal Aid will not be able to as there will not be enough funding to go around.
Image shows a stack of legal books to represent the sense of justice lost in this family law news storyThe Family Law Bar Association has stated that the changes which have been proposed will have a particular effect on the speed in which divorce hearings are made. Another drop from the list of legal aid for which the budget provides is free advice for families who may be entering legal matters. However, in spite of the Family Law Bar Association’s issues, the government believes that the proposed changes will go towards encouraging more people into mediation and out of the courtroom. In my opinion, these hopes are somewhat optimistic, if not a flat-out excuse to save money.

On average, around 250,000 cases of family law in the form of both familiar breakdowns and divorce receive help from Legal Aid and these figures come from the Citizens Advice charity, a reliable source. The organisation has stated that, should the government go ahead with the pending cuts to Legal Aid that this number would be reduced to around 40,000 cases per year. The head of the Family Law Bar Association, Nicholas Cusworth QC has voiced his concern over the lack of availability of financial help may have a drastic impact and leave people without specialist advice which they so desperately need should they find themselves in these difficult circumstances. Family law is one more area where the budget cut may remove justice from the masses.