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Legal aid and other help if you can't afford divorce or separation fees

If you can’t afford the fees involved in divorcing or separating from your partner, you might be able to get help to cover some or all of the costs.

In England and Wales, legal aid isn’t available for the legal costs of divorce or dissolution – unless it involves domestic abuse (including financial abuse), child abduction, or you’re at risk of homelessness.

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Even if you don’t qualify for help with the legal costs involved in your divorce, you might be able to get legal aid for mediation – see our section below on Legal aid for mediation.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are two types of legal aid available in divorce cases:

  • Advice and assistance – help with the costs of legal advice from a solicitor, including completing legal paperwork.
  • Civil legal aid – if you’re going to court, help with the costs of using a solicitor to prepare a case and speak for you in court.

Most people apply for advice and assistance first, followed by civil legal aid if it’s necessary.

You'll usually need to show that you can't afford to pay your legal costs yourself. 

In Scotland

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In Northern Ireland

Your solicitor will let you know whether you’re likely to qualify for legal aid, and apply on your behalf. 

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A mediator can help you and your ex-partner reach your own agreement about children and financial matters. It’s usually quicker and cheaper than asking a court to decide for you.

You might qualify for legal aid for mediation if you’re on a low income or not working.

Legal aid can cover the cost of:

  • the introductory meeting to work out whether mediation is going to be right for you
  • further sessions until you reach an agreement
  • the document recording everything you’ve agreed
  • the cost of asking a solicitor to turn the document into a legally binding agreement.

It will also cover the cost of the introductory meeting and the first session for your ex-partner, even if they don’t qualify for legal aid in their own right.

The mediator will apply for legal aid on your behalf. If you qualify, the government will pay them directly.

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Are you already receiving legal aid for your divorce and would like to use a mediator? Then your solicitor will need to seek permission from the Scottish Legal Aid Board to cover your share of the costs of mediation.

However, if you’re referred to family mediation by the court, your share of the mediation costs will be automatically covered by legal aid.

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In Northern Ireland, there’s a free of charge, pre-court family mediation service for parents who are separating.

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If you’re already receiving legal aid for your divorce, this should also cover the costs of mediation. Your solicitor will need to ask permission of the Legal Services Agency for the costs to be covered. If you’ve been referred to mediation by the court, you don’t need to seek permission.

If you don’t qualify for legal aid but you can’t afford to pay legal fees, there are places you can go for free or low-cost advice.

Get help from your local Law Centre

Law Centres offer legal advice to people who live locally to them and some also run telephone advice lines. Some, but not all, can advise on family law.

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Contact LawWorks

LawWorks offers free legal advice clinics around the country, and some cover divorce and family law. 

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Help from your trade union

Some trade unions offer legal services for non-work issues. This varies from union to union, but might cover a free consultation with a family lawyer or access to a free legal helpline.

Ask your union to see what help they can offer.

Help from the Royal Courts of Justice

RCJ Advice (part of the Royal Courts of Justice) offer free legal advice if you can’t afford a solicitor and need help with a court case in England or Wales.

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Get a half-hour free consultation from a solicitor

Many solicitors offer a free 30-minute initial consultation. This can help you find out your rights, your options and recommended next steps.

To get the most out of your appointment, work out what you’re going to ask beforehand.

If you’re not sure, speak to an adviser at your nearest Citizens Advice to help you decide what questions to ask the solicitor. Find your nearest branch:

Look for a solicitor:

Then ask them if they offer a free consultation.

Or, contact Citizens Advice to ask if they can recommend a local solicitor who offers a free consultation.

You might be able to find a solicitor or barrister who is willing to take on your case as part of their pro bono work. Pro bono work is free legal help offered by some lawyers on a voluntary basis.

In England and Wales

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In Scotland

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Then look on their website or ask them if they do pro bono work.

In Northern Ireland

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Then look on their website or ask them if they do pro bono work.

DIY divorce

It is possible to go through the divorce or dissolution process with little or no help from a solicitor.

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Represent yourself in court

You can choose to represent yourself in court. Before you go down this route, contact Citizens Advice who will help you weigh up all your options. 

In England and Wales

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In Scotland

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In Northern Ireland

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Help with court fees

You might be able to get help paying court fees if you’re on certain benefits, or if you have savings and income below a certain amount.

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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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