From the beginning of April 2013 a number of changes were introduced under the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act 2012; or to give it its catchy nickname “LASPO’.
As a result of LAPSO, Legal Aid is no longer available to people of limited means, unless there are issues of domestic violence/child protection. Subsequently, many people may find it difficult to fund the cost of legal advice and representation during a divorce or any other family matter.
There are a number of options available to clients including fixed fees; which are becoming increasingly popular as they give clients certainty as to the costs they will have to budget for. It is also possible to take legal advice in ‘segments’ – undertaking some of the time consuming work yourself and being guided by a solicitor as required. It will undoubtedly be the case however that some clients will simply not be able to afford to seek legal advice at all; leaving them in a potentially vulnerable position; especially if their spouse has sought legal counsel.
One way that the court has sought to reduce the impact of this potential imbalance is the introduction of ‘Legal Services Orders’. Legal Services Orders can be enforced by the family courts. They require the better off spouse to pay the legal costs of a spouse that cannot afford to pay themselves. Whilst the court has always had the power to enforce ‘Legal Fees Orders’, as this type of order was previously known, this was only ever done in ‘exceptional’ circumstances and as such, were used infrequently.
In the new landscape of funding for family law cases, it is highly likely that Legal Services Orders will become more commonly used. It is a remedy that will enable many people to fund their litigation.
Each person’s circumstances will be unique to them, and advice relating to the application of a Legal Services Order must be sought at the earliest opportunity. In each case, the Court will have to consider whether a person applying for a Legal Services Order meets the relevant criteria. However, if a person does not have any income, or funds with which to meet their legal costs, and their former partner or opponent in their proceedings does have wealth, even if such wealth is limited, then consideration ought to be given to applying for a Legal Services Order.
Following LASPO I was the first member of Farley’s Family Law Team to seek and obtain a Legal Services Order on behalf of a client. We successfully secured provision for future payment of that client’s legal costs to Final Hearing, with the District Judge accepting that the criteria in that particular case were met. It was crucial to obtain this order for our client to ensure a fair outcome in a difficult and complex case. Had the order not been secured and the client had gone unrepresented, they would have been placed at a great disadvantage as the opponent had all the family wealth; using this as a way to exert pressure in the hope of retaining the majority.
If you are concerned about funding your family proceedings and you believe that your opponent may have funds that would assist with the costs of the proceedings, do not hesitate to contact our experienced Family Lawyers who can advice you about obtaining a Legal Services Order.
By Nicola Rushton, Family Lawyer in Burnley