Family Court proceedings: where can I get advice and support?
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Do I need a lawyer (solicitor or barrister)?
What is the difference between a solicitor and a barrister?
How can I find a solicitor or barrister?
How much do lawyers cost?
What if I am not eligible for legal aid and I cannot afford to pay a lawyer?
The Personal Support Unit
This guide sets out sets out some sources of advice and support for those who are involved in family court proceedings.
Legal advice and assistance from a qualified lawyer is usually helpful and recommended however you are not required to obtain legal advice. You can make the application and attend court yourself without legal representation. People who are involved in court proceedings without lawyers are known as litigants in person.
A solicitor is usually the first point of contact if you have a legal problem. Sometimes solicitors refer work to a barrister for specialist advice or to appear in court to represent you. It is also possible for solicitors to represent you in court.
It is also possible for you to contact some barristers directly, without going to a solicitor first. Contact the Bar Council for further details (see Useful contacts).
Solicitors and barristers have to follow a code of conduct, which means that there are rules about their responsibilities and what you can expect from them. Solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Barristers are regulated by the Bar Standards Board.
See Useful contacts at the end of this guide for details of organisations which can help you find a solicitor or barrister.
You may be able to obtain legal aid to cover their legal costs and lawyers’ fees. To find out further information see A guide to family law legal aid.
If you have to pay for your legal costs then you will need to make enquiries directly with the lawyer as their charges vary. Most lawyers charge an hourly rate for the time they spend on the case.
The lawyer should provide you with an hourly rate and an estimate of what your costs are likely to be at the start of your case. The lawyer should keep you updated if the cost estimate changes, and provide you with regular bills so you can keep track of your costs.
Some solicitor firms and barristers charge fixed fees if they are only required to do specific pieces of work in order to save costs. This may suit you if you are able to conduct most of your case yourself but need a lawyer to conduct limited pieces of work – such as drafting particular documents, providing advice on specific issues or representing you at a hearing.
Some people fund their legal expenses by taking out a loan. You should obtain independent advice before obtaining a loan.
If you cannot access legal aid and you cannot afford solicitor fees you may be able to obtain some free advice from:
- Our family law advice lines. We provide telephone advice for women on all aspects of family law.
- There may be other advice lines that can provide advice on your specific issues. Some of these are listed in the Useful contacts section at the end of this guide.
- Your local Citizens Advice Bureau. The Citizens Advice Bureau provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on a range of issues.
- Your local Law Centre. There are Law Centres across England and Wales providing advice, casework and representation.
- The Bar Pro Bono Unit. The Bar Pro Bono Unit is a charity which helps to find free legal assistance from volunteer barristers once your case is in court. You will need to be referred to them by another organisation.
You can find contact details for the above organisations in the Useful contacts section at the end of this guide.
This guide provides a general overview only, so there may be other sources of support and advice that have not been mentioned which are local to your area or specific to your issues.
If you do not have a lawyer then you can take one person who does not need to be legally qualified with you into the court to sit alongside you and provide general support (for example, a friend). That person is known as a McKenzie Friend.
You will need to ask the judge for permission to allow the McKenzie Friend to assist you. Requests for such assistance should only be refused for compelling reasons, and the judge must explain those reasons fully to you and your proposed McKenzie Friend.
A McKenzie friend can sit with you, take notes, provide suggestions to you, and help you organise documents. A McKenzie Friend will not be allowed to speak on your behalf to the judge or the other party’s lawyer unless they obtain special permission from the judge.
Generally, McKenzie Friends will be somebody you know. There are organisations and individuals who offer services as McKenzie Friends either free of charge or for a fee. Please be aware however, that they are not regulated and may not be legally qualified.
The Personal Support Unit (PSU) is a charity which provides assistance for people attending the Family Court who do not have a legal representative. The PSU does not provide legal advice, but offers practical guidance and emotional support to help their clients solve their problems in a number of courts in England and Wales. The service is free. For further information about which courts they operate in visit their website: www.thepsu.org
The law is complex and may have changed since this guide was produced. This guide is designed to provide general information only for the law in England and Wales. You should seek up-to-date, independent legal advice.
Rights of Women does not accept responsibility for any reliance placed on the legal information contained in this guide.
© Rights of Women January 2015
For free, confidential, legal advice contact our advice lines
Legal aid Agency – 0345 345 4 345
The Law Society (to find a solicitor) – www.lawsociety.org.uk/find-a-solicitor/
Resolution (to find a family lawyer) – 01689 820272 – www.resolution.org.uk/
Bar Council (to find a barrister) – 020 7611 1472 – www.barcouncil.org.uk
Bar Council’s guide “Representing yourself in court” – www.barcouncil.org.uk/instructing-a-barrister/representing-yourself-in-court/
Solicitors Regulation Authority – 0370 606 2555 – www.sra.org.uk/
Bar Standards Board – 020 7611 1444 – www.barstandardsboard.org.uk
Citizens Advice Bureau – www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/getadvice.htm
Law Centres Network – 020 7749 9120 – www.lawcentres.org.uk/
Bar Pro Bono Unit – www.barprobono.org.uk/
Family Rights Group (for advice on involvement of children services or local authority) – 0808 801 0366
Coram Children’s Legal Centre (for advice on the law relating to family) – 0300 330 5480 – www.childlawadvice.org.uk
Shelter (for advice on housing and homelessness) – 0808 800 4444
Maternity Action – 0845 600 85 33
Personal Support Unit (PSU) – 020 7947 7701 – www.thepsu.org/
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