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How to pay legal fees on divorce or dissolution

When you get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership, there'll be costs. Unless you qualify for state help, you and/or your husband, wife or civil partner will have to pay them. If you can’t pay them from your savings or income, there are other options.

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You might not have to pay court costs or might only have to pay part of them. This will depend on how much savings and income you have.

England and Wales

Legal aid is no longer available to pay the legal costs of divorce or dissolution unless there’s been:

  • domestic abuse (including financial abuse)
  • violence, or
  • child abduction.

But you can apply for legal aid to pay for mediation – although this is means-tested.

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Northern Ireland and Scotland

You might be able to get legal aid to pay towards the legal costs of divorce or dissolution.

You’ll be assessed on how much income, savings, investments and valuables you have (not including your main home).

You might also be able to get legal aid if you receive certain benefits.

Northern Ireland

Solicitors are responsible for calculating whether you qualify for legal aid.

Scotland

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Paying your solicitor’s fees

If you don’t have enough savings or income to pay the solicitor’s fees upfront, there are several other options.

But think carefully before you borrow and it’s important not to take out a high-cost loan. This could be hard to repay when you’re already facing higher costs due to your separation.

Paying from your financial settlement

Some law firms will let clients pay their legal fees when their divorce or dissolution is final and they’ve reached a financial settlement.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, this type of funding is sometimes called a ‘Sears Tooth agreement’ – after the law firm that first offered it. In Scotland, it’s known as a ‘solicitor’s lien’.

Not all legal firms will offer this option – and those that do, might not offer it to all their clients. But it’s worth asking about.

If the family home has to be sold as part of your financial settlement, your solicitor might let you pay the legal bill from the proceeds of the sale.

You would have to sign an ‘irrevocable mandate’ – this means you can’t cancel it.

It instructs the solicitor selling the house to pay any outstanding legal fees to your divorce or dissolution solicitor. You’re then given the rest of the money.

If you can’t pay your legal fees, a court can order your ex-partner (husband, wife or civil partner) to pay them.

The amount they pay would be taken into account when working out a financial settlement.

This isn’t something that courts routinely do, but they do make these orders in some cases.

You would normally have to show that you have explored every other option to finance your legal fees and that your ex-partner has the means to pay.

But be aware that there are costs associated with it.

Funding from your ex

Your ex-partner might not be an obvious source of funding for legal fees.

But, in some cases, one partner will agree to pay the other’s fees – without the court ordering this – to get the finances settled quickly.

You and your ex-partner might agree this, or your solicitor might ask them on your behalf.

Borrowing from family or friends

You might be able to borrow from family or friends. And it might be cheaper and much easier than borrowing from a bank, building society or other loan provider.

Make sure you get a formal agreement drawn up or the court might not take the loan into account when considering how to divide the finances between you.

Also, be sure that you can pay the money back. If you can’t, it could harm the friendship or family relationship.

0% interest credit card

A credit card that charges 0% interest on purchases means you pay no interest on your spending for a limited time – usually between three and 12 months.

The longer the 0% interest deal runs for, the longer you have to pay it off without being charged interest.

You’ll usually only qualify for these cards if you have a very good credit rating.

Try to only borrow what you need, and pay off what you’ve borrowed as soon as you can.

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Divorce or dissolution loans or litigation loans – England, Wales and Scotland

You might be able to apply for a loan that’s designed to pay for the costs of divorce or dissolution.

Very few firms offer these – and they’re not available in Northern Ireland. But it’s worth asking your solicitor if they know of firms that do.

The lender will assess the prospects of your case and the likely level of your settlement.

If their lending criteria are met, they’ll release the funds direct to your solicitor to cover legal fees as they are due.

The advantage over a traditional loan is that you have a pre-agreed maximum loan. And you only borrow what you need as your legal costs rise.

When your divorce or dissolution is finalised, the money to pay the loan will be taken from your financial settlement. The rest of the money is then released to you.

Find out:

  • if there are any set-up fees
  • how much interest you’ll pay
  • whether the lender requires any security to be given, and
  • whether you can pay off the loan early without having to pay an early repayment charge.

Personal loans

You might be able to take out a personal loan from a bank, building society or other loan provider.

The amount you can borrow and the interest rate will depend on your situation and the lender you apply to.

The interest rate and monthly payments will be fixed and the loan will run for a set term. But you can normally make extra payments to pay off your loan sooner without being charged large early repayment charges.

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Credit unions

You might be able to borrow from a credit union. This is a community saving and loans provider owned and run by its members.

The interest they can charge is limited by law, so it will be much cheaper than other short-term loans – such as a doorstep or payday lender.

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Other funding options

It’s worth checking your home insurance policy – as it might include cover for legal expenses.

If you belong to a trade union, see if it provides support for legal fees.

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MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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Looking for us? Now, we’re MoneyHelper

MoneyHelper is the new, easy way to get clear, free,
impartial help for all your money and pension choices.
Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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