From 1st April 2013, up to 200,000 people filing for divorce face the prospect of no access to legal advice following the withdrawal of legal aid from lawyers who previously acted for separating couples.
Currently in the UK, privately funded disputes over children and financial arrangements can push the cost of divorce to over £10,000 per couple in legal fees.
In response, a network of top London family lawyers is joining forces with family mediators to provide an affordable alternative called lawyer-supported mediation. For the first time, each member of a warring couple will be offered a matching fixed fee covering all the legal advice they need to resolve their differences.
Marc Lopatin, a trained family mediator and founder of lawyersupportedmediation.com, said: “From today, we face a situation where divorcing partners eligible for legal aid effectively join the ranks of those earning an average salary. Neither group can afford to pay a lawyer to negotiate their divorce.
“We dramatically reduce the cost of accessing legal experts by fusing their advice with family mediation, where separating couples can resolve their differences. This is particularly important where children are involved. The overall cost of lawyer-supported mediation is between 45% and 90% less than hiring the participating lawyers on even reduced hourly rates. ”
John O’Callaghan, partner of central London law firm Ronald Fletcher Baker, one of the scheme’s participants, said: “We recognise that the withdrawal of legal aid from family lawyers will see thousands of people unable to access the expertise they need. That’s why forward thinking law firms are now offering lawyer-supported mediation to provide legal advice at prices people can afford. We want separating couples on all incomes to know there is now an alternative to an expensive and acrimonious divorce.”
Example: Couple divorcing and in disagreement over finances and child arrangements:
Couple A: Both partners eligible for legal aid from today
Total private contribution made by the couple using lawyer-supported mediation: £720 (incl. VAT). This covers all pre-mediation legal advice and the completion of divorce paperwork. Legal aid pays for all other remaining professional fees (i.e. the cost of mediation, legal advice once mediation underway, and the Consent Order).
Total cost to Couple A of using the same two family lawyers on reduced hourly rates to resolve their disagreement estimated at £7200 incl. Vat . Lawyer-supported mediation 90% cheaper in terms of what Couple A is being asked to contribute privately alongside legal aid funding.
Couple B: Both partners just miss out on legal aid from today
Split equally, the total cost to Couple B of using lawyer-supported mediation is £4000 incl. VAT. Covers all legal advice & paperwork and the cost of mediation. Cost to Couple B of using the same two family lawyers on reduced hourly rates to resolve their disagreement estimated at £7200 incl. VAT. Lawyer-supported mediation 45% cheaper.
Lawyer-supported mediation is available across London and will be rolled out across the country.