Fixed Fees and Funding and Legal Aid and Confusion

Both Family Solicitors and Family Mediators have noticed a fall in new enquiries since the Legal Aid changes in April. This is not just in Devon, but also across the Southwest and nationwide.

The recession really has hit families hard, and whilst there are those who want/need to separate and get divorced and or to sort out family finance and children arrangements they are daunted by the cost. I will try to summarise funding options;

Legal Aid

Legal aid still exists for family law work.  To find a Legal Aid service there is a tool on the Ministry of Justice Website; http://find-legal-advice.justice.gov.uk/  if you tick the right boxes, you will find that the Legal Aid hub for East East Devon is Honiton. I have one of the 4 family Legal Aid Contracts for our part of the County and I am the only Legal Aid Contracted Family Mediation Service that is based in East Devon.

What Does Legal Aid still cover?

It covers cases with Social Services; Protection from Domestic abuse or protecting a child.

Where there has been abuse (and there is the correct form of evidence) it can also cover Divorce, children’s arrangements and finance. There is a tool on the Government website to help you check at https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid

For most separating families it is expected that they will work out their future arrangements with Family Mediation. The idea is that the couple approach the mediator first.

Once Mediation has started, there is another type of Legal Aid called “Help with Family Mediation” which allows those eligible to get legal advice in support of the mediation process, including drawing up a binding Court Agreement. Help with Mediation does not cover the actual divorce. That has to be paid for privately. The Government have helpfully put up the fees that the Court Charges to process a Divorce from 1 July, so anyone will need to budget around £1000. Of this more than half will be Court fees and VAT.

Clients want to get legal advice first. This is understandable. However Legal Aid will not pay for this. It is important therefore to choose the right mediator. To help, take a look at https://familylawandmediation.co.uk/choosing-a-family-mediator-20-questions-to-ask/ or just give me a call.

For those eligible, the mediation and the supporting advice is free. But anyone who isn’t eligible for Legal Aid will have to pay their share. This will still be much cheaper than the alternative. The Mediator should ensure that both get focussed Legal Advice at the right time.

Actually from the point of view of resolving arrangements, seeing the mediator first is logical and sensible, particularly where the couple has Children.

Fixed Fees

These are attractive to many separating couples. Again this is understandable. We all know or have heard of someone who has had a nightmare divorce with costs in the £000’s. But be careful these are not always cheaper.

I am happy to agree a fixed fee for Legal work, but when pricing, I have to factor in the risk that the case will be more complicated than described. I am taking a risk. I have to allow something for the unexpected (as does everyone else). Many of us have had builders who have quoted 3 days’ work but finished in 2. Often this is because they are including time for dealing with the unexpected.

The clearer the process, the easier it is to get an accurate quote. This is why I have launched a fixed fee scheme for Hybrid Family Mediation;   https://familylawandmediation.co.uk/my-new-fixed-fee-scheme-for-hybrid-family-mediation/

This is a Non-Legal Aid scheme. I would hope to assist the couple resolve all financial issues and possibly also children issues for a price from £500 +VAT each (typically the cost of a mediation process is £1000 -£1500 + VAT each (which is still cheaper than going to Court))

What this scheme does is to give the Solicitors a very clear process to work with. They should be able to give a clear quote.  By my reckoning the cost is similar to the Solicitors negotiating with each other on your behalf, but things are much less likely to go wrong. If you both want me to assist in this way, we can book a date and I can put you in touch with a good Solicitor, who will advise and support you through this process.

The things that you have to be careful about with fixed fees are; who is doing the work? What is the charging rate on which the fee is based? What are the “get out clauses”?

My hybrid mediation process should be the best route, because of the degree of certainty that it gives, and because it is also a quick process.

Seeing a Mediator before a Solicitor

As I have said above, clients seem to be finding this concept difficult.

When I see clients for the first time, they often ask “what are my rights?” I talk about this on the page https://familylawandmediation.co.uk/solicitor-led-family-mediation/how-too-much-advice-too-soon-can-make-it-harder-to-solve-the-problem/

The answer is always “a fair settlement which puts the needs of your children first”.

To give a full answer requires lots of information and taking a view of the balance between the competing rights of both parents and their children. Generally the most important decision for a client at the start of a divorce or separation is to choose the right Solicitor or Mediator and the process to achieve a Fair outcome in the most effective way.

Where there are safety issues, Court is most often the best place to start.

Where the issues are about how to untangle financial arrangements or how children will spend time with both parents, mediation in some format is generally the best route.

Pay as you go

Like many Solicitors, I am also offering a pay as you go service, where I will help a client manage their own case on a meeting by meeting basis.  After an initial free half hour looking at process options I charge for this at £15 per 6 minutes (the equivalent of £150 +VAT per hour; lower than the general going rate)

What concerns us as practitioners is that couples are delaying getting advice or are avoiding resolving problems or are sorting them out without support in a way which may be to their and their children’s disadvantage.

For more on my fees have a look at; (https://familylawandmediation.co.uk/payments-2/  and/or just give me a call…

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