How to pay legal fees on divorce or dissolution
When you get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership, there will be costs to pay. 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, you may have to look at other options.
Help with court fees and through legal aid
You may not have to pay court costs, or may only have to pay part of them. It will depend on how much savings and income you have.
England or Wales
Legal aid is no longer available to pay the legal costs of divorce or dissolution unless there’s been domestic violence or child abduction. However, you can apply for legal aid to pay for mediation, although this is means-tested.
Northern Ireland and Scotland
Legal aid may be available to pay towards the legal costs of divorce or dissolution. You will be assessed on the basis of how much income and savings, investments and valuables you have (not including your main home). You may also be able to get legal aid if you receive certain benefits.
Paying your solicitor’s fees
Ideally, you should have enough savings or income to pay your solicitor’s fees, but this may not be realistic for many.
If you can’t pay the fees upfront, there are several other options. But think carefully before you borrow and don’t take out a high-cost loan. This could be hard to repay when you are already experiencing 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 has been finalised and once they have reached a financial settlement.
This type of funding is sometimes called a ‘Sears Tooth agreement’ in England, Wales or Northern Ireland after the law firm that first offered it. In Scotland, it is known as a ‘solicitor’s lien’.
Not all legal firms will offer this option, and those that do will not offer it to all their clients. But it is worth asking about.
Paying legal bills when you sell your home – Scotland only
If the family home has to be sold as part of your financial settlement, your solicitor may 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 before passing the rest of the money to you.
Court application for legal fees – England, Wales, Northern Ireland
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. There are costs associated with it.
Funding from your ex
Your ex-partner may 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) in order to get the finances settled quickly.
You and your ex-partner may agree this, or your solicitor may ask them on your behalf.
Borrowing from family or friends
You may be able to borrow from family or friends and it may 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 may not take the loan into account when considering how to divide the finances between you.
You should 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 – typically three to 12 months.
The longer the 0% interest deal runs for, the longer you have to pay it off without being charged interest.
You will normally only qualify for these cards if you have a very good credit rating. You should only borrow what you need and you should try to pay off what you’ve borrowed as quickly as you can.
Divorce or dissolution loans or litigation loans – England, Wales, Scotland
You may be able to apply for a loan that’s especially designed to pay for the costs of divorce or dissolution. At the moment, very few firms offer these (and they’re not currently 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 then they will release the funds direct to your solicitor to cover legal fees as they fall due. The advantage over a traditional loan is that you have a pre-agreed maximum loan and only borrow what you need as your legal costs rise.
Once your divorce or dissolution is finalised, the loan will be redeemed from your financial settlement before any funds are released to you. Find out:
- if there are any set-up fees
- how much interest you will pay
- whether you can pay off the loan early without having to pay an early repayment charge
- whether the lender requires any security to be given
You may be able to take out a personal loan from a bank, building society or other loan provider. The amount you may be able to borrow and the interest rate will depend on your own circumstances and the lender you apply to.
The interest rate and monthly payments will be fixed and the loan will run for a set term. However, you can normally make extra payments to pay off your loan more quickly without incurring large early repayment charges.
As an alternative to a bank or loan provider, you may be able to borrow from a credit union – 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.
Other funding options
Check your home insurance policy, which may include cover for legal expenses.
If you belong to a trade union, it may provide support for legal fees.