Family legal problems can be particularly upsetting, and you may want to obtain legal help about your situation. This Factsheet describes what sort of help is available, who can help and how to contact them.
Who can help with my family law problem?
If you can afford to pay for a solicitor to act on your behalf (called “representing” you) or you qualify for Legal Aid (see below) then this is always the best option. A solicitor who represents you can help with all aspects of your legal issue, for example they can write letters to the other party on your behalf and attend court hearing for you. See “How will I pay for family law advice” below for ways that you might be able to pay for a solicitor to represent you even if you don’t think you can. See “How can I find a family solicitor” below for details of how to find a solicitor to represent you.
If you really can’t be represented by a solicitor, then there are other free legal advice services available. However, they can advise and support you: they cannot represent you. If you are not represented then the court system will refer to you as a “Litigant in Person (LiP)”.
If you live in Suffolk, please contact Suffolk Law Centre on (01473) 408111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try to assist you.
If you live in Norfolk, please contact Norfolk Community Law Service 01603 851249 or email email@example.com to see if they can assist you.
If you live in Essex, please contact University of Essex Law Clinic 01206 874429 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org to see if they can assist you.
If you are experiencing Domestic Abuse, the following organisations can help:
- National Domestic Abuse Helpline (nationally): 0808 2000 247
- Lighthouse Women’s Aid (in Suffolk): 01473 228 270
- Men’s Advice Line (nationally): 0808 801 0327
In an emergency you should always call 999.
How will I pay for family legal advice?
This is often people’s biggest concern. Family solicitors can charge around £250.00 per hour for their time. Some solicitors offer a free or reduced price first appointment so it’s always a good idea to ask. Some solicitors will let you pay their fees on a monthly basis to help spread the cost. If you will have a financial settlement from a divorce they may be prepared to wait and take some of their fee from this financial settlement. Some solicitors will also agree to advise you on what to do, but let you actually do the work yourself which can save quite large amounts of money.
Some people may also be eligible for Legal Aid (see below) which can help with some or all of the costs of certain family legal matters.
How can I find a family solicitor?
The Law Society has a “Find a solicitor” search tool which produces a list of solicitor near to you who offer advice in your chosen legal area, available at https://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/. The list will have contact details for all of the solicitors. At present, many solicitor’s appointments and court hearings are being done by phone or video so don’t worry too much if the solicitor is some distance from you as you may not need to see them in person. When the list of solicitors is displayed there is also an option to refine the legal area that you want advice on, for example from “Family” to “Children”. Some of the solicitors on the list may have changed the services they provide so do make sure they still offer legal advice in the area that you need it.
What is Legal Aid, and am I eligible?
Legal Aid (LA) is a government service that can help to pay for some or all of your legal costs. It is run by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA). Since 2012 LA is only available in very limited circumstances. Whether you are eligible for it depends on three factors:
- Scope – what your case is about, AND
- Means test – whether the LAA’s calculations indicate that you can afford your own legal costs or not, AND
- Merits test – the likelihood that your case will succeed (whether a reasonable person would use their own money to pay for the case)
With regard to scope, LA is available for the following areas of family law:
- Social Services involvement – if Social Services are applying for a Care Order, a Supervision Order or an Emergency Protection Order for your child(ren)
- Family injunctions – including Non-Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders following domestic abuse
- Family mediation – to resolve disputes about your child(ren) and/or finances after a relationship breakdown
- International and domestic child abduction – to prevent a child being removed illegally from the UK or to make sure they are returned
- Private children disputes – but ONLY if you have evidence of domestic abuse or child abuse
- Divorce and finance matters – but ONLY if you have evidence of domestic abuse.
Please be aware that if you or your child(ren) have been victims of domestic abuse then then you will need to produce evidence that is acceptable to the LAA. A LA solicitor can help you with this.
With regard to the means test, you will have to show the LAA that you cannot afford to pay your legal costs. They will need documentary evidence of your income, benefits, savings, property and investments. You will also have to show your expenditure. You can use a gov.uk calculator to see if you are eligible for LA at https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid.
With regard to the merits test, a LA solicitor will be able to advise you about this. A LA solicitor will cover all these areas with you and assess whether you are eligible for LA.
You should be aware that you may be required to pay back some or all of the money made available for your case under LA.
Where can I find a solicitor that offers Legal Aid?
You can refine the list of solicitors returned from the Law Society’s search facility by selecting the Legal aid option from the list on the left-hand side, for example “Family – legal aid”. You can call the solicitor to check that they still work in the legal area of your enquiry and that they still offer a LA service.
LA solicitors are frequently very busy and sadly may not have capacity to take on your case. The following solicitors are firms that have taken on Suffolk Law Centre clients in the past: please note that we cannot recommend solicitors, we are simply highlighting solicitors that have had capacity in the past to take on LA clients.
|David Wilson Solicitors||41 Lower Brook St, Ipswich
|01473 252 159|
|Haywards Solicitors||9 Tavern St,
|13 Surrey Street, Lowestoft,
|Norton Peskett||Old Bank House
66a Bells Road Gorleston-on-Sea,
What is a barrister, and how can I find one?
A barrister is a lawyer who specialises in representing clients in their court hearings. Most barristers are appointed by a solicitor who is representing you. However, it is possible for you to approach a barrister as a LiP and ask them to represent you. This can be especially effective if you have an important family court hearing. Asking a barrister to work in this way is called “Direct Access”. You can find out more about Direct Access barristers at https://www.barcouncil.org.uk/bar-council-services/for-the-public/direct-access-portal.html. This website includes a link “For the public” which will allow you to search for a Direct Access barrister.
Please note that Direct Access barristers that you approach via this website will not undertake work that is funded by Legal Aid. Barristers typically charge at least £300 per hour for their time.
There is a charity called Advocate that works to find free legal representation from barristers. You can find out more about how they work at https://weareadvocate.org.uk/. Please be aware that there is a huge demand for family barristers from this service and you should contact them as soon as you know the date of the court hearing that you would like the barrister to represent you at.
Where to go for further information
If you need help about a family legal problem you can:
- Check our other Family Law Factsheets available at https://forms.suffolklawcentre.org.uk/
- Check the AdviceNow website at https://www.advicenow.org.uk/ for useful guides and videos
- Contact Suffolk Law Centre (see details below).
This Factsheet is not legal advice
Please remember that this factsheet gives general legal information. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information is correct, this cannot be guaranteed. It is not a substitute for legal advice. You should always seek legal advice for a legal matter.
This Factsheet was updated on 27 October 2021.
How to contact Suffolk Law Centre
Address: 46a St. Matthews Street, Ipswich, Suffolk IP1 3EP.
Telephone: (01473) 408111