If qualified lawyers feel that way, imagine how it must feel to appear before a judge as a member of the public, especially if the case involves some of the most important things you will ever deal with – your relationship with your children, and your financial future after divorce?
The stress associated with this has now been confirmed by a new report from Citizens’ Advice on the impact of representing yourself in family cases (being a “litigant in person”). 90% of litigants in person they surveyed said that the experience had negatively affected at least one other aspect of their life (health, relationships, work or finances) and was, overall, “difficult, time consuming and emotionally draining”. Worryingly, too, the report suggests that they achieved poorer outcomes – perhaps not surprising if your ex has solicitors and barristers and you are on your own.
This is a real issue south of the border because of the 2013 cuts in Legal Aid, which is now only available for family cases where there has been domestic violence or the person is litigating against a public authority. Unsurprisingly, the number of litigants in person has increased accordingly. The number of family cases where neither litigant has legal representation is up 30%, and child cases are up 22%. Citizens’ Advice also report that 7 out of 10 people have not taken legal action at all as a result of the cuts.
While in Scotland, Legal Aid is more readily available, the situation down south does prompt reflection about the costs and benefits of having a family lawyer in your corner. It’s understandable to worry about legal fees, given that relationship breakdown in itself has an impact on finances. However, these concerns have to be weighed up against the fact that in Scotland, you only have one opportunity to seek financial provision – once you are divorced, no further claims can normally be made. In many of the cases our team deals with, a relatively modest expenditure on legal advice leads to a considerable improvement in the outcome.
Not only that, but consulting a family solicitor means that you have someone to guide you through negotiations as well as the court process. It is impossible to eliminate the stress involved entirely, but access to specialist advice and support can reduce its impact. Many of our clients do not need to go to court but if you do, we will navigate the sometimes arcane procedures to ensure that the court deals effectively with your case. We also know what to say to the judge (and sometimes more importantly, what not to say). However, before things get to that point, we will also make sure you understand how the law applies to your situation, what your options are, and the cost of pursuing them. We will help you evaluate your priorities and give you honest advice on what can realistically be achieved.
Family lawyers also understand that relationship breakdown is traumatic and that you may be feeling especially vulnerable. Many people worry that involving solicitors will increase the level of conflict, but in our experience a measured and factual approach between solicitors can lessen the conflict .
So if you are considering whether or not you need a family lawyer, why not come in and have a chat with one of us before you decide to go it alone? We offer a fixed price for an initial discussion which is a cost-effective way to find out more and get the process started. After that, we will always make our costs clear before we start work, and if you need to take matters forward, we can also help you to explore various funding options for your case. We also hope that we can make the experience less stressful and difficult for you overall - whether in court or not.