Admitting you need to divorce is not an easy decision. Many people feel trapped in loveless or abusive relationships as the financial burden of a divorce may be too costly – even if the decision to split is the right one.
The average legal fees for divorce amount to £8,926 in Britain but can jump to more than twice that amount to £18,269 if you live in London, according to a financial settlement divorce survey conducted by law firm Seddons in 2017.
Three years on, these figures are likely to have grown.
The cost of divorce is often a deterrent for couple even if they’re stuck in unhappy or abusive relationships.
These costs can be hard to stomach and it can be particularly hard those with little to no income or who have suffered domestic or economic abuse.
The good news is that there are several ways to pay legal fees.
Here, This is Money runs through 12 potential options to make the burden of legal fees and other divorce costs less onerous.
1. Borrowing from friends or family
Georgina Rayment head of family law at Prettys says you can draw up a legal contract to pay back your friend or family member if they help fund your divorce
This is a common way of paying for legal costs upfront.
If you’re going to approach a loved one about helping out with legal costs be honest with them about when you’ll be able to repay them.
Georgina Rayment head of family law at Prettys, advises: ‘Disagreements, and any subsequent litigation, can drag on for months or years.
‘If a friend or family is loaning money, make sure the lawyer gives a robust worst case scenario cost estimate so that everyone is aware of how much may need to be found to conclude the case.’
To ensure there’s trust, get a legal document drawn up outlining the amount borrowed and repayment terms.
Rayment adds: ‘The court do not have to factor in the sum owing as a genuine liability, yet the borrower will still need to repay it.
‘It is preferable, and protects all involved, if a simple loan agreement is drawn up by a lawyer so that it can be produced to the court.
‘The lender is protected because they have a document to enforce and it is therefore in their interest to arrange for the legal documentation.’
2. Legal aid
Legal aid is rarely available now for divorces because it was scrapped back in 2013.
Before the change was introduced, people with no or little income could apply for legal aid to help fund divorces.
Legal aid is still available in certain cases to people who suffer at the hands of domestic violence, abuse or child abuse.
However, proving abuse can – unfortunately – be a challenge.
Emine Mehmet, child care director of Duncan Lewis Solicitors says: ‘You have to give one of the prescribed forms of evidence. It’s not just a case of one call to the police.
‘Some people may not have the proof as the very nature of relationships may be that they were unable to get it.’
Legal aid was scrapped back in 2013 but it’s possible to still apply for it in certain cases
3. Getting funding from support groups
If you’ve experienced economic abuse you may be struggling financially and not able to start divorce proceedings as a result.
There are a number of charities and organisations that can offer you funding, provide you with debit information and advice, such as Buttle UK, St Andrew’s Society for Ladies in Need and the Heinz, Ann and Carol Kroch Foundation.
For a full list of organisation and funds that can help go to the national poverty charity Turn2us’ website or contact Citizens Advice.
How to get help if you’re a victim of abuse
In an emergency situation call the police on 999
Freephone the 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (in partnership with Refuge and Women’s Aid): 0808 2000 247
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
Civil Legal Advice: 0345 345 4 345
Source: Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA)
4. Applying to reduce court fees
If you are on benefits, have little or no savings or little or no income you could slash your court or tribunal fees.
There are certain eligibility criteria, such as not having more than £3,000 in savings and investments if you’re under 61 and earning less than £1,245 if you have a partner.
The divorce court fee costs £550 but if you have no money or are on a low income then you can apply for a fee remission.
5. Getting a free legal consultation
Find out from a law firm if they offer an initial free consultation. They may offer this to new clients thinking of going through a divorce.
But this may come with some restrictions. For example, London based law firm Vardags offers a free consultation to those with family assets over £1million or if the combined family income is above £150,000 per year.
The alternative is to track down your local law centre. Law centres are independent and operate on a not-for-profit basis. You can find your local centre on lawcentres.org.uk.
Last month Emine Mehmet, Dalston based child care director of Duncan Lewis Solicitors (pictured), set up a pro bono legal advice clinic for victims of abuse along with councillor Lakmini Shah from Newham Council and the University of East London
6. Pro bono help
Some lawyers will take on cases on a ‘pro bono’ basis – meaning they will work on divorces for free.
The best time to find out more is during pro bono week, which takes place in November every year in the UK.
However, some law firms offer pro bono services throughout the year.
For instance last month, Mehmet launched a pro bono surgery along with councillor Lakmini Shah from Newham Council and the University of East London.
The law clinic offers legal advice to vulnerable members of society who may not be able to afford it.
Family lawyers attending the clinic advise on a range of matters, including: divorce, dissolution of a civil partnership, financial provisions and non-molestation injunctions.
7. DIY online divorce
Divorcing online has become easier and cheaper over the years.
What is economic abuse?
According to Dr. Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, founder and chief executive of charity Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) explains that domestic abuse and control takes many forms.
She defines economic abuse as one partner seeking to sabotage or control the other’s personal finances.
‘These include basic needs such as feeding themselves, clothing children, home and car finance.
‘Restricting control to finances is one of the easiest forms of abuse as it leaves no marks.
It can even extend to taking out debt in your name. It’s also easy to do economic abuse post separation as passwords can be easily guessed.’
She adds that it’s difficult in such situations for spouses to leave as perpetrators often put them in lots of debt with no access to money.
She advises women to call the National Domestic Helpline or contact organisations that specialise in helping people suffering from abuse such as Women’s Aid.
Many providers, including family lawyer for the rich and famous Laura Wasser are now offering such a service.
Wasser, who’s represented celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Ryan Reynolds and Maria Shriver, will soon make her digital divorce platform itsovereasy.com available to a UK audience.
Typically, these online divorce services charge a fixed fee (plus VAT).
Co-op Legal Services, for example, offers a solicitor managed fixed fee divorce package which costs £375 or £450 inclusive of VAT provided it’s an uncontested divorce.
The fee is agreed upfront before any work starts. The service includes a follow up call with a divorce solicitor, professionally prepare papers, support from a divorce solicitor.
Tracey Maloney, head of family law at Co-op Legal Services says: ‘We have worked with the courts during 2019 and helped them with testing the online service to upload a divorce petition.
‘It’s less onerous than it used to be. You don’t need legal advice.
‘If you have no money and both agree to divorce that’s the avenue that’s open.
‘It’s doing very successfully. Go to Gov.uk – here the court has guides and lots of things you can download and they have taken out legal jargon and straightforward.’
8. A Sears Tooth Agreement
According to Stowe Family Law, a Sears Tooth agreement is ‘a deed that assigns a client’s settlement to the solicitor to enable them to cover the costs incurred in acting for the client and out of which they will be paid first and in full, when the case is over’.
In other words, once the divorce is finalised and you get any settlement from splitting the assets of a house, for example, you can pay your legal costs from that.
This type of arrangement has to be disclosed to the court and any other parties in the divorce.
Not many lawyers offer this option of payment because they point out that they’re not in the business of lending money.
But it’s worthwhile to ask your legal professional if they will do this or if there are any other options available to you as they may work together with other organisations that may provide funding.
A lawyer will probably outright refuse to structure payment in this way if a case is particularly complex or risky.
You may not be on speaking terms but it is possible to convince your ex to pay for the divorce
9. Funding from your ex
This may be a surprising option but getting your ex to fund the divorce may be one way to ensure that the process goes smoothly without incurring massive amounts of debt.
‘Restricting control to finances is one of the easiest forms of abuse as it leaves no marks
If you don’t feel up to asking your ex for the money a carefully crafted legal letter from your lawyer may do the trick.
Emma Gill, head of Vardags in Manchester says: ‘There’s multiple ways to do this and the first way is to simply ask.
‘One of the biggest consequences if they don’t do it is to make a specific cost application, which allows you to ask the court to get the wealthier spouse to pay for the legal fees.’
Gill points out that that getting a legal services payment order can be a costly endeavour and will put most spouses off protesting paying for the other party’s costs.
10. Borrowing money
It’s possible to borrow money in order to pay for legal fees. You could borrow from a credit union, get a low-rate personal loan or use a 0 per cent credit card.
This should be a last resort option, as you do not want to be lumbered with a debt you cannot afford to repay.
There are also specific divorce loans offered by certain lenders, such as Rhea Family Finance and Iceberg Client Credit.
Find out from your solicitor if they recommend any specific providers. These companies will typically release the funds directly to your lawyer.
It’s important to find out what kind of interest and other associated fees will be charged if you take out this type of loan.
It’s not uncommon for people to turn to loan options such as credit cards, personal loans and divorce loans to finance their split
Caroline Elliott, partner in the family law team at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau says there can be drawbacks to these types of loans.
Elliott says: ‘They have to be certain that there’s money so they are interested in the bigger cases so if you’re an ordinary family then they may not be interested.
‘They charge interests comparable with credit card rates. It’s not ideal as it’s an expensive form of finance.’
11. Legal expenses insurance cover and call centres
Legal expenses insurance may come as a bolt on perk as part of your home or car insurance policy.
While they usually don’t cover divorces, they could offer a call centre that you can contact for legal advice.
This may help to save you some time and money if you’re stuck with a particular problem in the divorce process.
12. Support from your trade union
Amy Dawber from law firm Slater and Gordon says some trade unions offer support to their members to help them access family law advice.
‘It can vary depending on which union you are with, but some have advice lines set up and others will offer services such as free consultations or reduced hourly rates with specialised lawyers.
‘We work with several trade unions who offer various methods of support, such as a free consultation or a percentage off our costs.
‘Our family lawyers frequently advise union members on areas such as divorce and financial settlements, children disputes and injunctions.
‘In the first instance you should check with your union about what they can offer you, with details often being advertised on their websites.’
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