Legal Aid warning for families in the East Midlands
Couples and families experiencing problems in the East Midlands are being advised that time is running out to get financial support for legal advice.
The Legal Aid scheme helps those who meet certain criteria to pay for the cost of a solicitor. However, in April 2013, this support will be withdrawn for the majority of family case types, including divorce, issues arising out of residency and child contact, and financial problems stemming from separation.
Although it is still a number of months until public funding is withdrawn, family law experts at Nottingham law firm Rothera Dowson are warning that the application process can be quite drawn out: “The main thing to remember with Legal Aid is that it’s not instantaneous,” commented Paul Cobb, family & collaborative law solicitor and head of the family law team at Rothera Dowson. “If in place before April of next year, then the funding will hopefully be protected, but the application can take up to six months.
“Lots of people are aware that Legal Aid is coming to an end, but it will have been at the back of their minds. It now needs to come to the forefront if people are to get the financial support that they need.
“Many families and couples see taking legal advice as a last resort, but with the economy still unstable and disposable income still sparse, a lot of people could find themselves trapped in an unhappy situation when Legal Aid disappears.”
Law firms are now starting to look at introducing new ways of working to compensate for the loss of the scheme. Rothera Dowson is currently working on a new fixed fee scheme and has already introduced online legal documents as a convenient and less expensive way to deal with divorces and dissolutions of civil partnerships.
Paul believes that the scaling back of Legal Aid will also see a rise in other methods that are used to deal with marital and family problems:
“Collaborative Law is now becoming increasingly popular and is starting to fundamentally change the way that people think about family law. It basically aims to support couples that wish to work together and minimise the pain of family breakdown.
“Each party has a collaborative lawyer and four-way meetings take place to discuss important issues and to negotiate an agreement. Any documents that need to be drawn up are done so during these meetings to record any agreement. If the process involves divorcing or dissolving a civil partnership, then a petition for this can also be drawn up and agreed as part of the process.
“I think we will certainly see a rise in prominence in this kind of approach going forward.”
For more on Collaborative Law, visit Rothera Dowson’s dedicated website, collaborativelawsolicitors.co.uk. Further details on the firm can be found at rotheradowson.co.uk.