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How to find the best family lawyer

I need somebody. And not just anybody…

How to find the best family lawyer

Court proceedings, whether in divorce, civil partnership or involving children, are stressful. (Just to state the bleeding bloody obvious).  A family law matter is rendered even harder if the solicitor you have instructed does not exactly fill you with confidence.  Even worse is the prospect of having to turn up at court (a potentially intimidating experience for anyone) when your stomach is doing back flips and you don’t feel your legal representative is fully in command of their brief.  So I want to share my thoughts on how to find the best family lawyer.

I have huge sympathy for those lawyers who still offer public funded (legal aid) family work.  Their caseloads are huge.  Their clients are anxious.  The law is not rendered any less complex just because your client is on legal aid.  Most of the time, the pressure is so intense, that the best you can do is to constantly ‘firefight’.  The firm’s overheads are just as high as the private law firm down the road but the legal aid family law firm gets paid only a fraction of the fees that private firms will demand.  Family lawyer burnout is a sad reality.

And so to the virtual postbag…

Which contains this plea from M:

I really need some help. I am petrified my solicitor is not worth their salt as I am struggling alot with the E1 form and not getting a hold my hand experience. I have seen they are not listed on the site and my ex is taking me to court in three weeks. I am legal aid funded and have been with this same solicitor throughout a two year ordeal, trying to also be a full time mummy.  It may be complete paralysing fear…..but I have now heard some bad comments from a Domestic Violence Support group I have been attending about my solicitor. I would be grateful for any help! Thank you.

M later clarified that Resolution had confirmed that her solicitor was a Resolution member.  My first reaction upon seeing M’s predicament was that she should immediately contact her solicitor and explain her concerns.  If I was M’s solicitor, I would want to know if one of my clients felt so desperately anxious  about their situation.  It is rather surprising to see that M’s case has been going for two years. M refers to an impending court hearing and the need to complete a Form E1.  I am therefore assuming that M was not married to her ex-partner but that they had a child or children together and that the impending court hearing is in relation to a Children Act (Schedule 1) case. Such cases allow applications for periodical payment, lump sum orders and property adjustment orders on behalf of a child or children of parents who are not married or in a civil partnership.

I do not know the details of M’s case and therefore know better than to comment any further but I can understand how the prospect of changing solicitors in the middle of court proceedings will be daunting.  However, if M gives her solicitor a chance to make her feel that there is a clear game plan for her case then she may have the assurance she seeks.  The Form E1 is a much reduced version of the full Form E (used by married couples in divorce proceedings).  Form E1 tends to require factual information only like income and liabilities whereas Form E has narrative sections at the end which present a great opportunity to present your case well or a blissfully ignorant way to ruin it.

So, for M, I think she needs to meet with her solicitor to make sure her Form E1 is up to scratch.  It will be for her solicitor (or perhaps, her barrister) at the hearing to explain to the court what M and her child/children wish to achieve.  Because Form E1 does not have the narrative boxes to explain the salient points of a case (an oversight in the design of these forms, in my humble view) I would normally provide the court with a chronology of key events and a summary or position statement on M’s behalf so the court (and M’s ex) is fully aware of the relevant issues in the case.

There may be all sorts of reasons why M’s solicitor hasn’t had the time to make M feel looked after. If M feels that the explanation provided is unsatisfactory then she should say so and her solicitor should deal with the matter as a complaint and seek to resolve M’s dissatisfaction.  If M feels the proposed solution is not good enough or if she progresses to the hearing and still feels that she is not receiving a proper service then she should approach another firm (it will need to be one that offers legal aid) to see if they feel able to take it over.  Although this transfer will require the permission of the Legal Services Commission who administer the legal aid pursestrings.  There should be time between this forthcoming hearing and the next one to change legal firms if that remains M’s wish.  I wish her well.

Choosing a new solicitor

I do appreciate how hard it can be to identify a good solicitor when you may not have a recommendation to act upon.  I know that there are plenty of online  legal directories springing up that claim to have the details of the finest lawyers around.  Most of these directories, especially the ones that pop up after a Google search are… how can I put this? Shite.  Yes, that about sums them up.  I am asked all the time how people can work out who are the really good family lawyers.  I was asked so many times that I committed my thoughts to an eBook, imaginatively titled: How to find the best Family Lawyers.  My eBook is free to anyone who cares to subscribe to my blog, using one on those sign-up boxes that lurk around the edges of the page or pop up when you least expect it. Go on, subscribe.  Knock yourself out.

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Simple childhood pleasures - sometimes free


Child support issues and the CSA feature heavily in my postbag nearly every week. Disputes about child support occur whether the context is one of divorce, or separation following co-habitation. Children are expensive.  One of the difficulties is that the economic circumstances of both parents can change, sometimes dramatically, during the minority years of a child and the CSA or the family court can struggle to keep up.

I received an interesting enquiry from Joan:

Hi….wondered if anybody could help. I have a daughter who is now 15, when she was 18 months old her father & I split up. He saw her a handful of times after that & has never paid any maintenance.

In 2004 he won the lottery. I separated from my ex husband & made contact with my daughters father & she started to see her dad. The CSA did an assessment at the time (it was automatic as I was on Income Support)but they said they could not trace any income even though he had properties interest from his earnings!…Being non confrontational & then finding a job I decided not to push the situation plus I felt uncomfortable with the fact that people may think that I was out for his money!

He has helped with paying for her holiday a couple of times but that’s about it (all in all approx £1000 max-Coutts & co cheques!) Things have moved on and financially we’re struggling and think it’s about time now that he helps out. Don’t know which way to play it, contacted him but had no response….surprise surprise!!…advice please 🙂

Well, as usual, I must emphasise that I do not offer ‘advice’ on this blog.  I can’t: simply because it would dangerous to do so when I do not have possession of all the facts.  But I can offer some observations.

The CSA are presently dealing with your daughter’s maintenance.  You can talk to them about any concerns you have about your ex’s non-disclosure.  But I could indulge in a bout of speculation to the effect that once he had his lottery win he may have organised his finances in such a way that the CSA could not take into account all the interest he earned from certain sources.  In some cases, business assets (rather than investment properties) can be excluded from the deemed income or interest regulations.

Your ex banks with Coutts.  Well, that’s rubbing it in, isn’t it? Coutts used to require new customers to have investible assets (i.e. money knocking around that could be placed with the bank) of at least £500,000.  It went up to £1M recently.  Whilst Coutts will say that this criterion is only a guideline, the key is that your ex must have had significant funds (non-business assets) to invest or hold with Coutts to have obtained an account.  Did you tell the CSA he was banking with Coutts?  That should have at least raised eyebrows at the CSA.  Your ex may demonstrate a lifestyle inconsistent with his declared income.  Perhaps he is married and has diverted the lottery capital or income to his wife?  Press the CSA again and consider a complaint if they are not taking you seriously.

Regardless of whether the CSA will take steps to properly investigate your ex’s financial means, you could make an application on your daughter’s behalf under Schedule I of the Children Act 1989 for lump sum orders and property adjustment orders.  You have probably left it too late to ask the court to consider an order requiring your ex to buy or provide a property for you and your daughter to live in as she will shortly be coming to the end of her minority.  (But I don’t know all your circumstances or your daughter’s so you must take advice).  But you can apply for multiple lump sums for various needs your daughter may have, to do with health, disability or education, for example.

An application to the court on your daughter’s behalf would require your ex to provide financial disclosure which may be very interesting.  The family court can take into account all of your ex’s assets and income in deciding the appropriate orders.

However, you should take advice upon the timing of any application.  Because, your daughter, when she attains the age of 18, can make an application on her own behalf under Schedule 1 of the Children Act, for periodical payments (maintenance), property adjustment orders and lump sums, if she is in education or vocational training and providing she did not have immediately before her 16th birthday a periodical payments order in force for her benefit.  So, it may be worth just waiting until your daughter is 16 before you think of applying on her behalf so you do not prevent her applying in her own right later on.

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