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Legal Aid

Unfortunately we can not take on clients on the basis of legal aid.

Unfortunately, from 1 April 2013 legal aid for family law in England will be limited to the following cases:

Everyone else will now have to pay privately or represent themselves.

If you think your case may fall into one of the narrow exceptions in the list above, please contact a family solicitor with a contract to do legal aid. We do not take on cases on the basis of legal aid at Alternative Family Law. Even then the government will only fund your legal costs if

  1. you qualify under the means test, i.e. your income and capital is below the limits set by the government and down
  2. you qualify under the merits test, i.e. your case is deserving enough. down

Legal aid for the left-behind parent for a child abduction to England and Wales to bring proceedings under the Hague Convention on Child Abduction is non-means, non-merits tested.


To do legal aid work a solicitor must have a franchise from the Legal Services Commission. This means that the solicitor must invest a lot of money and time in setting up IT systems and accounts systems (and employ book-keepers who are trained in this) to tie-in with the complicated remuneration structure for legal aid cases set by the Legal Services Commission. This is a massive bureaucratic burden on any solicitor’s firm. The Commission audits the law firm periodically to ensure that formal standards are met, such as that files are labelled with the client’s name etc. They do not test the ability of the lawyer to give accurate or good legal advice.

Other than their general qualification as a solicitor the only quality marks for family lawyers in terms of legal ability are:

The remuneration paid by the Legal Services Commission for legal aid work is extremely poor compared to market rates (often roughly half of the private rates for trainee solicitors). Therefore, more and more solicitors decide that it is not worth while applying for a franchise or are pulling out of legal aid work (“Solicitors shunning legal aid work as pay rates fall, survey reveals”, The Guardian, 7 January 2007). For these reasons Alternative Family Law does not have a franchise. to top of text

Means test

To find out whether you may qualify for public funding, use the online calculator.

When using the calculator, please read the explanations and notes to the questions on the right very carefully before answering the questions. You may have no money at all, but you may still not receive legal aid, for example because your mortgage will not be fully deductible. to top of text

Merits test

The basic test is whether a privately-paying client of moderate means would put their money into the case. However, it is more complicated than this and varies depending on the type of case. If you think you may qualify for legal aid, please contact a family solicitor with a legal aid franchise and talk to them about the merits test.

You can find details of solicitors with franchises in your area on the this website. Even if you are getting legal aid, you may have to pay the costs you get back if you recover or preserve assets or money in your case. This does of course not apply if you have a dispute about the residence or contact for a child, but if you argue about shares in a house, you may find that the Legal Services Commission gets a first share of the sale proceeds, or has a mortgage on the house if you cannot sell it immediately because it is your home. This is called the “statutory charge” and your solicitor will explain to you in detail if and how it applies in your case.

If you are not entitled to legal aid or if you have decided to pay privately nevertheless contact Alternative Family Law to consult Andrea Woelke for advice on your specific circumstances. to top of text

15 November 2014 by Andrea Woelke


This is an outline of the law, practice and procedure in England and Wales. It should not be taken as specific advice. All families and couples are different. The law may have changed since this was written and we therefore accept no liability for inaccuracies. Where examples are given, your personal circumstances may vary slightly, but the difference may be significant for the outcome of the legal process. Contact us for specific advice on your own circumstances.

We take no responsibility for the content of any web pages linked to outside Alternative Family Law.