How will the Legal Aid changes affect Family Law

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“Insure Yourself Against Divorce” one newspaper headline screamed this week, hot on the heels of Justice Secretary Ken Clarke’s decision to scrap legal aid for couples seeking a divorce, meaning those going through a marriage breakdown will have to pay their own legal fees, despite their financial circumstances.

Of course, this is just one area of Legal Aid the coalition government is addressing and there are still some aspects of Family Law that have been left unaffected.

However, it does mean that many couples thinking of marriage may well decide to take out ‘before the event’ insurance policies to protect them from the legal costs of divorce in the future.

Divorce Lawyers

Just as pre-nuptial agreements – known as pre-nups – were given legal force in the UK only weeks ago, now the government wants to save £178million a year by slashing legal aid support for ordinary families going through divorce or other family disputes.

Whilst pre-nups are designed to protect each person’s wealth and assets upon entering marriage, they do not cover the legal bills in the event of a divorce. And whilst, in the past, the less wealthy partner could call on Legal Aid to fight for their settlement, now that option may no longer exist.

The average cost of a divorce is £13,000 and couples are being urged to take out insurance to cover these legal fees. There is the option to make a one-off payment of around £750 or to pay around £10 a month throughout the marriage. Perhaps not what newlyweds-to-be want to think about with their big day to plan! But, it seems, with one in three marriages ending in divorce – some 140,000 each year – taking out ‘divorce insurance’ should be right up there on the list of things to do before walking down the aisle.

Some quarters are praising the decision in the hopes that more couples will seek to settle their divorce through mediation rather than going to court – which, of course, can be emotionally distressing for any children involved.

And it’s not just divorce that has been affected by the cuts in Legal Aid – cases involving child contact, non-violent domestic disputes and welfare will also no longer be eligible for legal aid. Even the BBC has predicted that there will be “complete outrage” from agencies which help families and from within the legal profession.

However, the most inexcusable Family Law cases can still be funded by Legal Aid where cases involve domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction.

Funding will also remain available for mediation services as a means to resolve disputes.

Emma Pearmaine, Head of Family Law at Simpson Millar states: “I accept that savings must be made to the public purse but these cuts will mean that many families can no longer expect to access legal advice and assistance – because it will simply not be affordable. It is inevitably the vulnerable who will suffer most.”

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