Charlotte Butler Kitto joined The Family Law Company in December 2010 from an established family law team in Plymouth. She has specialised in family law for the past four years and has a particular interest in issues surrounding separation. Charlotte also has experience in seeking injunctive relief in domestic abuse cases, and in relation to matters involving child protection.
For those on a low income, the prospect of trying to find money for legal fees to get divorced can be almost impossible to face.
This is also a real problem for people who have, until separation, been supported by their spouse whilst they raise the children and/or care for the home.
People can find themselves in a desperate financial situation very quickly, and having to seek advice from a lawyer can place further financial strain on what is already a delicate and precarious position.
In the past, those with a low income had the possibility of applying for legal aid for divorce and financial matters. However, there have been a lot of changes to the legal aid system over the last twelve months, and one of the areas that has changed most significantly is the availability of legal aid for people in this situation.
It is true that legal aid is still available for people in some circumstances.
Those already in receipt of legal aid for other matters (for example a dispute over children issues) may be able to extend that legal aid to cover matrimonial finance proceedings. However, this unfortunately only applies to a very small percentage of cases.
The only other situation in which an application for legal aid could be made in respect of divorce and financial matters would be in cases of domestic abuse.
Victims of domestic abuse are able to apply for legal aid to divorce the perpetrators of that abuse if they are financially eligible, and may be able to apply for cover for the financial matters (depending on the assets in dispute). However, the Ministry of Justice is very strict about the evidence needed of domestic abuse, and it can be difficult for some victims to get one of the documents required (the full list of what would constitute evidence of domestic abuse can be found here.
If you are not entitled to legal aid under the new rules, it may seem overwhelming to think about legal fees to go forward with a divorce. However, there are a number of ways in which we can help you; as family law solicitors in Exeter and Plymouth, we are committed to those left stranded by the legal aid changes. We offer a variety of reduced rates and fixed fees to help you plan how to manage your legal costs. We will also advise you if it may be suitable in your matter to apply for interim maintenance from your spouse, or to ask the Court for a Legal Costs Order which would mean that your spouse would pay a set sum for your legal costs, to be reviewed as the matter progresses.
There are a number of options open to you, even if legal aid would not be available. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like to discuss this issue with us; we would be happy to provide you with a free appointment to talk about your particular case, the various ways forward for you, and the range of options available for funding your matter.
There is no obligation to move forwards – if you decide that applying for a divorce is not right for you after the appointment then this is absolutely fine. Please contact Charlotte Butler Kitto on Charlotte.ButlerKitto@thefamilylawco.com or 01392 284 848 if you are interested in setting up a free appointment to talk about your situation and how we could help you.