Is there life after Legal Aid?
As from 1st April 2013 public funding or Legal Aid will not be available for Matrimonial matters, financial matters and private law children cases such as residence and contact applications. In an effort to cut costs, the government through legislation in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 will remove a lot of legal advice from the Legal Aid scope.
Legal Aid will still be available for some family law cases and Matrimonial matters. These including public law children proceedings, for instance where Social Services are involved in care proceedings and also for domestic violence cases.
However, to obtain Legal Aid for Matrimonial matters, financial or children cases there will be a ‘gateway’ to pass through therefore, you will have to prove either domestic abuse or child abuse. The precise detail of the criteria for domestic or child abuse to be met is as yet unclear. There are concerns this could lead to an increase in allegations of domestic violence and abuse and as things stand, it will only be the ‘victim’ or the parent seeking to protect an abused child who will be able to obtain Legal Aid and not the alleged abuser.
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to not have suffered from abuse and possibly a good proportion of those who have but failed to meet the criteria set, then legal advice will become something which has to be paid for. Those that can’t afford it may not be able to obtain representation for their case including Matrimonial matters.
However there may well be alternative ways in which funds can be obtained to pay for legal representation. In AvA (Maintenance Pending Suit: Provision of Legal Fees) it was held that the words of section 22 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 are wide enough to empower the Court to include an element towards the applicant’s costs of the suit if it is reasonable to do so and if the respondent’s means are sufficient. This would enable both parties to have equality of position when dealing with their matrimonial finances.
In addition to this it is proposed there will be a change to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 to empower the court to make interim Lump sum Orders to fund legal fees. However, these remedies are limited to financial proceedings and not Children Act proceedings. The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 is when either a divorce is granted, decree of nullity of marriage or judicial separation has been granted and the court can order the transfer of a property between the parties or to children for the benefit of a child, to settle property for the partner and children or varying any ante-nuptial or post-nuptial settlement. The court can make an order even if there are no children involved and under subsection orders and decree take effect only when the divorce is made absolute.
Mediation can of course always remain an option where Legal Aid is to be retained for those who would meet the eligibility criteria. However, time is now ticking. If you are anticipating divorce or separation therefore Matrimonial matters are at hand as well as financial or children matters then act now and contact 174 Law. We are able to advise you on all aspects of Matrimonial Law, Family Law and funding options.
174 Law have Matrimonial Law and Family Law solicitors that can provide you with the best legal advice and support to help you though this difficult, worrying and stressful time.