Divorce can be a daunting prospect, especially if there are issues regarding finances, property, and arrangements for children to sort out. Naturally, most people faced with the prospect will want the assistance of a family law solicitor, to advise them and guide them through the process.

But what if they can’t afford a solicitor? Can they get legal aid to help them with the solicitor’s fees?

Legal aid cuts

Until 2013 the answer to the question was simple: yes, you could get legal aid for divorce (and everything else connected to it), subject to your means.

Can you get Legal Aid for a divorce?

Sadly, all that changed in April that year, when the government removed most private law family matters (i.e. matters not involving social services) from the scope of legal aid. As a result, the number of people accessing family legal aid was reduced by about 80 per cent.

The other effect of the change was that many family law solicitors gave up doing legal aid work, making it more difficult for people to find a legal aid lawyer, even for those few matters still covered by legal aid.

So what matters are still covered?

There are only really two main areas where legal aid is still available that are likely to be relevant to anyone going through divorce: in connection with mediation, and where there has been domestic abuse. (Legal aid may also be available in cases of child abduction, if your human rights are at risk, or if you’re at risk of homelessness.)

Legal aid for family mediation

If you have issues regarding finances, property, and arrangements for children to sort out then you and your spouse may choose to go to family mediation, whereby a trained mediator will help you try to resolve matters by agreement.

Indeed, if you need to ask the court to sort these things out you will usually first have to attend a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (often referred to as a ‘MIAM’), at which your case will be assessed for its suitability for mediation.

But mediation isn’t free: the mediator will charge a fee for their services, which is usually shared between the parties.

When the government cut legal aid in 2013 it hoped that many of those people who could no longer get legal aid would take their cases to mediation, rather than go through the courts. Accordingly, the government decided that legal aid should remain available for mediation.

Legal aid for family mediation is means-tested. It is only available to those on a low income, or who are not working.

If you are eligible, legal aid will cover all of the costs of mediation, including all sessions with the mediator, the drawing up of an agreement by the mediator, and (if required) the cost of having a solicitor turn the agreement into a legally binding court order.

Legal aid in cases of domestic abuse

You may also be entitled to legal aid if you or your children have been the victim of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is defined to include physical or sexual abuse, violent or threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse (i.e. behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on a person’s ability to acquire, use, or maintain money or other property, or to obtain goods or services), and psychological, emotional or other abuse.

If you wish to apply to a court for a non-molestation or occupation order to protect yourself from domestic abuse then legal aid is available, subject to means.

And legal aid may also be available (again, subject to means) to cover other matters such as sorting out finances and arrangements for children, if you can provide specified evidence that you have been the victim of domestic abuse, for example evidence that the other party has been arrested in relation to a domestic violence offence, or a letter from your GP stating that they have examined you and found injuries consistent with you being a victim of domestic violence.

We can help

Discover more about our legal aid service. Alternatively, find out more about our family mediation services and information in relation to how our domestic abuse solicitors can support you.

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediationdivorcechild law, and arbitration. For expert advice, please contact the team.