Many people are having to go through family law court proceedings without having the benefit of legal advice, simply because of the costs involved in instructing a solicitor.
Going to court and representing yourself is a terrifying prospect for most people … is there anyone who can help?
It is always worth contacting a few local solicitors to see what they actually charge. You might be surprised. Also, many solicitors will agree that you can “pay-as-you-go” to get advice, i.e. you can pay upfront for a fixed fee and fixed duration appointment to allow you to pick their brains. Or you can have them check a statement or application you have prepared yourself before you file it at court.
This is an excellent way of keeping your legal costs under control whilst also getting the reassurance and advice you need in order to put forward your strongest case.
If you need to attend a court hearing and you won’t be able to afford to have a lawyer attend with you and speak for you, you may want to have a McKenzie Friend attend with you instead.
McKenzie Friends are not usually qualified lawyers, they are “lay people” who attend court to give you moral support, take notes (if the judge gives them permission) and help you manage the court papers.
McKenzie Friends can’t have any personal interest in the case so relatives can’t usually be a McKenzie Friend.
McKenzie Friends can’t speak in court on your behalf unless the Judge specifically gives them permission which is exceptionally rare, but they can help you to ensure you make yourself heard.
There are many organisations that provide McKenzie Friends so look online but beware! They are not regulated and won’t owe you a duty of care. Also their fees can sometimes be higher than a solicitor, so you should check their fees first.
Royal Courts of Justice – Citizens Advice Bureau
There is a CAB at the Royal Courts of Justice that can try to help people who are facing court proceedings without a lawyer through their pro bono system. Visit their website at www.rcjadvice.org.uk or give them a call on 020 7288 7678. They can help even if your case isn’t being dealt with by the Royal Courts of Justice.
Bar Pro Bono Unit
The Bar Pro Bono Unit is a charity which helps you to find free legal assistance from volunteer barristers. This can include representation at a hearing or even just general advice if the case isn’t going to court.
They will only help if you can’t afford to fund your case yourself and if you aren’t entitled to legal aid. There is no guarantee that they can provide assistance from start to finish, and they can’t offer assistance to everyone.
To apply for help from the Bar Pro Bono Unit, you have to be referred to them by an agency such as the CAB, a solicitor or your MP.
What does this mean for you?
The moral of this story is that you don’t have to be super-rich to get help with your family law issues. There is help out there and it doesn’t have to break the bank. It pays to be organised and take advantage of the free and cheap options when it comes to divorce, separation and looking after your children when things are not going as well as you’d like.
And if you decide to have a preliminary chat with a solicitor, have a look at our advice on choosing a family law solicitor first!