Divorce Legal Costs: Recover or Contest Your Costs

 

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Divorce Legal Costs

As with all legal cases, divorce in the UK can be expensive, and legal fees and costs will be incurred throughout the divorce process.

The legal costs associated with divorce proceedings can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the complexity of the case, the willingness of the parties to cooperate, and the need for legal representation. Listed below are some key points to consider regarding divorce legal costs.

  • Solicitors’ fees: Solicitors are legal professionals who can provide legal advice and guidance throughout the divorce process. Their fees can vary based on their experience, reputation, and location. Divorce solicitors may charge an hourly rate or fixed fee for their services.
  • Court fees: When applying to the Court for divorce in England and Wales, there are Court fees that need to be paid. The person applying for divorce will be responsible for paying the Court fees.
  • Mediation costs: Mediation is a process in which a neutral third party helps the divorcing couple reach agreements on issues such as child custody, financial settlements, and property division. Parties are required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before a divorce can progress to Court. The cost of mediation varies, but it is generally more affordable than litigation. The fees may be shared between the parties or paid individually, depending on the arrangement.
  • Barristers’ fees: In some cases, you may need to engage a barrister (also referred to as Counsel) to represent you in Court or provide specialist advice on specific legal issues. Barristers usually charge a brief fee for the preparation and presentation of the case, as well as a daily rate if Court appearances are necessary. Barristers’ fees can vary significantly depending on their experience and reputation.
  • Additional Costs: There may be additional costs associated with divorce proceedings, such as expert witness fees, document preparation fees, and Court transcript fees. These costs can add up, particularly in more complex cases.

 

Who Pays the Costs of a Divorce?

In England and Wales, the general principle is that each party is responsible for paying their own legal costs in a divorce. This means that each spouse will typically be responsible for paying their own divorce lawyer’s fees and other legal expenses associated with the divorce process.

However, there are situations where the Court may order one spouse to contribute towards the other party’s legal costs. This is known as a costs order and is not automatic or guaranteed in every case. The Court will consider factors such as the financial positions of both parties, their conduct during the proceedings, and whether one party has been unreasonable, to determine if a costs order is appropriate.

In cases where one party has significantly more financial resources than the other, the Court may order the financially stronger party to contribute towards the legal costs of the financially weaker party. This is done to ensure that both parties have access to legal representation and a fair opportunity to present their case.

It’s important to note that the Court’s decision on costs can vary, and it is ultimately at the discretion of the judge to make such orders based on the specific circumstances of the case. Therefore, it’s advisable to consult with a solicitor who can provide personalised advice based on your situation and guide you on the potential costs involved in your divorce proceedings.

 

Divorce Legal Costs Orders

If you obtain a costs order in your favor, this will be legally binding. It will order the other party to pay your costs. If a costs order is granted in divorce proceedings, it may include the phrase “costs to be assessed if not agreed.” In such cases, the detailed assessment process will determine the amount of costs that are owed.

To recover your legal costs, you must serve a bill of costs to the party responsible for payment, along with a Notice of Commencement. The bill of costs should provide a comprehensive breakdown of all the costs you seek to recover, including court fees, solicitors’ fees, expert fees, and any additional costs incurred during the divorce proceedings.

The party responsible for payment then has 21 days to respond to the bill of costs by presenting their objections or disputes regarding any or all of the costs listed. If they fail to provide their objections within the specified 21-day period, you can apply for a default costs certificate, which entitles you to recover all the costs mentioned in the bill.

If a divorce costs order is issued against you, it becomes your responsibility to cover some or all of your spouse’s legal expenses.

You can negotiate the legal costs using the detailed assessment process. You will be required to provide your Points of Dispute to the opposing party within 21 days of being served, in order to contest any amounts claimed in the bill. Your Points of Dispute should consist of formal legal arguments aimed at reducing your liability for costs.

The receiving party may further negotiate costs by submitting points of reply. If an agreement on costs cannot be reached between the parties at this stage, a Detailed Assessment Hearing will be necessary.

 

Legal Aid for Divorce Legal Costs

Legal aid for divorce in England and Wales is primarily available in cases involving domestic abuse or child protection. To be eligible for legal aid in a divorce case, you would typically need to meet certain criteria, including demonstrating evidence of domestic abuse or showing that there is a risk of harm to yourself or your children.

It’s worth noting that even if you are eligible for legal aid, you may still be required to make a financial contribution towards your legal costs. This contribution is determined based on your income and assets.

 

Recovering Legal Aid Costs

Solicitors representing clients in divorce proceedings may be required to recover their costs from the Legal Aid Agency.

The Legal Aid Agency has specific rules and guidelines that solicitors must follow when submitting invoices, which include providing detailed information about the work done and the costs incurred.

The Legal Aid Agency assesses each bill to ensure that it complies with the rules and guidelines for legal aid billing. If the bill is accepted, the Agency will request evidence in support (such as a narrative as to the work, and supporting documents such as Court Orders and invoices for disbursements), and will pay the Solicitor for the work done.

Often the Legal Aid Agency will allow 100% of what is claimed, but some reductions may apply on assessment if amounts are incorrectly/unreasonably claimed, or if any enhancements sought have been reduced.

It is always beneficial to instruct a knowledgeable Legal Aid Costs Draftsman to maximise the fixed/hourly rate fees which can be claimed.

Legal aid costs draftsmen are specialist lawyers in the area of legal costs which deal specifically with costs claims submitted to the Legal Aid Agency. Under exceptional costs cases (to which a fixed fee does not apply), the costs of your Costs Draftsman/Lawyer preparing the Bill will be recoverable from the LAA.

 

Do you Have to Pay back Legal Aid Costs in Divorce Proceedings?

 

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) establishes statutory charges for some legal services provided under the Legal Aid Scheme. These charges are applied to the cost of legal services to partially recover the expenses associated with the scheme.

Statutory charges are typically applicable to cases funded through legal aid and are assessed on an individual basis. The exact amount of the statutory charge depends on the type of legal service rendered and the financial circumstances of the person receiving the service.

In some cases, if a party funded by legal aid receives compensation in their case, they may be required to pay a portion of it to the Legal Aid Agency as a statutory charge.

Furthermore, if a party retains or acquires assets whilst being represented under legal aid, and the full amount of legal costs cannot be recovered from the opposing party in any inter-partes costs dispute, they may be obligated to repay costs to the Legal Aid Agency that were previously paid on their behalf.

Comprehensive guidance on these matters can be found in the Civil Finance Electronic Handbook.

 

How can ARC Costs Assist?

 

For the avoidance of doubt, we cannot provide legal advice in divorce cases. 

Our team of highly skilled Law Costs Draftsmen and Costs Lawyers can however, assist legal representatives in recovering their legal aid fees, or in securing inter-partes costs after any such order has been made.  Our team regularly assists in all types of costs claims, including divorce legal costs disputes. Our client base ranging from law firms to Litigants in Person, both privately funded and funded by the Legal Aid Agency. In inter-partes disputes, we can assist both paying parties and receiving parties.

If a divorce Costs Order had been made in your favor, we can assist you in recovering the costs owed to you. Equally, if a Costs Order has been made against you, we can assist in disputing legal costs and minimising your costs liability.

We can further assist in recovering costs from the Legal Aid Agency in privately funded cases. Using our expert costing service, we help clients maximise their recovered legal costs whilst providing expert legal advice and minimising the risk of rejected claims from the Legal Aid Agency, to ensure you maintain your KPIs.

We regularly use the CCMS system to submit legal aid costs claims and deal with all the administration on behalf of our clients and to free up the time of fee earners, thereby ensuring you can recover your maximum legal aid fees in an expeditious and efficient manner.

To find out more about how we can provide you with assistance, please contact us at 01204 397302 or email our team of experts at info@arccosts.co.uk. Alternatively, please use our free chat facility to speak to an expert directly.

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