Barristers set aside their wigs and gowns to settle divorce disputes

The cost of getting divorced could be set to fall as a group of family law barristers have set aside hundreds of years of legal tradition by being the first family law firm in the UK to offer a fixed-fee divorce service, aimed at keeping their clients out of the court system.

Divorce Puzzle, a team of family law barristers from Middlesborough, have set aside their wigs and gowns to help embattled couples arrive at out of court settlements over issues such as family finances and child care arrangements.

Divorce Puzzle’s decision to enter what has traditionally been the territory of high street solicitors is an unforeseen consequence of the drastic cuts the government has made to the family justice system. Legal aid has been withdrawn for the vast majority of family law cases and this has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of barristers being instructed by solicitors to represent publicly funded clients in court. The cuts to legal aid, as well as being responsible for the rocketing numbers of parents who are choosing to represent themselves in court, are also leading to many barristers facing financial ruin.

Back in the summer the Bar Council carried out an online poll of its members and the results showed that many legal aid family barristers were being forced to question their futures. More than two-thirds of the affected family barristers said that their fee income had dropped whilst many of those who responded questioned the whether a career at the bar was now viable and were ‘actively considering’ their long-term future following the cuts to legal aid.

During the first year of the cuts to the legal aid system, family law barristers around the UK saw their income from legal aid fall from £38m to £15m so this should not come as a surprise. The barristers who have been affected are now starting to make use of recent changes which have been made to Direct Access regulation which will allow them to offer the same services as those offered by high street family solicitors.

Divorce Puzzle is a collective of barristers who are marketing their services to the public at lower rates of solicitors. Co-found of Divorce Puzzle, Collette Price explained that although it may seem like an unusual move for barristers to work towards keeping clients out of court, their legal knowledge can be used to help divorcing couples save significant amounts of money on their legal fees by helping them to arrive at an agreement themselves.

Divorce Puzzle’s approach to resolving family disputes is called Lawyer Supported Mediation; a service which is currently being piloted by small groups of family law solicitors in the north of England and London. Lawyer Supported Mediation combines family mediation with fixed-fee legal advice with the aim of encouraging effective communication to resolve family disputes.

Collette Price said: “Data from government shows eight out of ten people that begin mediation to go on to reach agreement. By providing affordable fixed fee advice in parallel, we hope to encourage more separating couples to explore mediation.”

Here at Dovetail Divorce our divorce services are designed to keep parents out of the courtroom by putting collaborative, amicable discussion at the heart of everything we do. We believe that not knowing how much your divorce will cost is a very outdated way of working and this is why we set up an accurate online divorce cost calculator which is unique in the UK. Our team of dedicated collaborative family lawyers, IFAs and divorce coaches working across Yorkshire and Derbyshire; if you would like information on how we can help you divorce in a way that meets your needs and the needs of your family, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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