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Help with legal fees when you separate

This advice applies to England

Separating can be complicated, so you might need legal help. For example, if you and your ex-partner can’t agree on who will stay in the family home, or where your children will live.

You might be able to get help with legal costs depending on your income, if you have any savings and investments and how serious your case is.

If your partner makes you feel anxious or threatened, you should get help.

You can call Refuge or Women's Aid on 0808 2000 247 at any time. 

Men's Advice Line is a charity that helps men suffering domestic abuse. You can call their helpline on 0808 801 0327 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

 If you’re unsure about what to do next, contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

You might be able to get some or all of your legal costs paid by the government. This is known as 'legal aid' and you should get it if:

  • you're using it to pay for mediation

  • have experienced domestic abuse in the last 5 years 

  • you're at risk of homelessness - for example, if your ex-partner is trying to throw you out of your home

To get legal aid, your legal adviser or family mediator will need a legal aid contract.

Find a solicitor or mediator with a legal aid contract on GOV.UK. 

Your legal adviser or family mediator will check if you can get legal aid and apply for you. If you qualify, the legal aid will be paid directly to them. 

You’ll need to pay some legal aid back if you keep or gain any money or property at the end of your court case. You might be asked to do this through a lump sum, or monthly instalments of £25 or over.

If you have any questions, speak to your legal adviser or family mediator. You can also get help from your nearest Citizens Advice.

Going to court quickly if you or your children are in danger 

If you need to go to court quickly to keep you or your children safe from your ex-partner, you can ask your solicitor to apply for ‘emergency legal representation’. It pays your solicitor and court fees if you need a fast decision on money, property or children.

If you get emergency legal representation, you should also ask your solicitor to apply for legal aid for any future costs or court hearings.

You might be able to get other help to pay for legal advice or court representation, including:

  • free or low cost advice from a  solicitor or caseworker in a law centre

  • up to half an hour free from a solicitor

  • free advice (known as ‘pro bono’ advice) from a solicitor, although this is rare for separation cases

Paying less for a solicitor

You might be able to get free or low cost legal advice from a solicitor or legal adviser in a law centre.

Find your local law centre on the Law Centres Network. There might not be a law centre near you that covers family issues, but it’s worth checking.

If you can’t use a law centre, see if any solicitors near you offer half an hour of free advice. The Law Society can help you find a local solicitor.

Some solicitors offer more than half an hour of free advice, although this is fairly rare for separation cases. Ask your nearest Citizens Advice if they know of local solicitors who offer free advice. 

You should research different solicitors before deciding which to choose. Ask them how much they charge and how long they think the process will take.

Don’t automatically go for the cheapest or the closest. It’s important you feel you’ll have a good relationship with them. 

Paying less for a barrister

If your separation is complicated or needs specialist advice, a solicitor might pass your case onto a barrister.

Like a solicitor, a barrister is a type of lawyer so it might be cheaper for you to go straight to a barrister yourself if you think your separation will need specialist advice. You can go directly to a barrister through the public access scheme

If you need to go to court, you can apply to be represented by a volunteer barrister. You'll need to be referred to one by:

To get help from a volunteer barrister you need to show you:

  • can’t afford a barrister - there’s no set fee, but they’ll normally cost at least £150 an hour
  • cant get legal aid

You’ll need to apply at least 3 weeks before your next court date.

Representing yourself in court

If you can't get any help to pay for a solicitor or barrister, it’s possible to represent yourself in court - called being a ‘litigant in person’.

It's best to get legal advice if you can, so speak to your nearest Citizens Advice to see what your costs might be and your options for paying them. 

If you want to represent yourself, you can get advice on going to court without the help of a lawyer from Advicenow.

Paying less for court fees

You can check if you can get help with your court fees on GOV.UK.

To apply, fill in the form online  then send it to the court dealing with your case. You can also use the form to get a refund for court fees you've paid in the last 3 months.

When you’re filling in the form, there are different sections for your and your partner's income and benefits. You don’t need to fill in any of your partner’s details if you’re separating from them - tick the box saying you’re single.

You can ask your nearest Citizens Advice for help with the form.

Send the form when you’re sending documents or applications to the court to avoid delay.

Talking to a counsellor

Separating can be stressful. If you need someone to talk to contact Relate or, if you have children, Gingerbread.

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