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Family law costs

Family law in England and Wales encompasses a wide range of legal matters, including divorce, child custody, and financial settlements. Costs in family proceedings can vary significantly depending on the complexity of the case, the conduct of the parties, and the length of legal proceedings.

Court and Legal Fees

The primary costs incurred in family law cases are court fees and legal fees. Court fees for family matters are structured according to the type of service required.

For instance, making a financial order, handling divorce proceedings, or resolving child arrangement issues each have specific fees associated with them.

The most up-to-date list of fees for civil and family court services can be found in government publications like the EX50 document series, which details the costs for various court actions (GOV.UK).

Legal Representation Costs

The level of legal fees you are expected to pay will depend on the complexity of the case and the rates charged by the solicitor or barrister engaged.

Family law solicitors can offer services ranging from consultation and legal advice to full representation in court proceedings. The cost of these services varies widely but typically includes an hourly rate or a fixed fee for certain services. Additional costs may be incurred in some cases where the involvement of other professionals, such as financial advisors or child specialists, are required.

Financial Orders and Settlements

The cost of obtaining financial orders or settlements can be substantial. The family courts have the authority to deal with financial matters upon divorce, including the division of assets and maintenance orders. These orders assess the financial needs of both parties and aim to distribute assets fairly, though not necessarily equally. Settlements can be reached either through court proceedings or mutual agreements between parties, the latter often resulting in lower costs if formal litigation can be avoided.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

To manage and potentially reduce costs, parties are encouraged to engage in alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration. These processes are generally less formal and less expensive than court proceedings. Mediation, in particular, is supported by the courts as a way to resolve disputes amicably without the need for a full court hearing, which not only reduces costs but also speeds up the resolution process.

Legal Aid

For individuals unable to afford legal representation or court fees, financial assistance may be available through schemes like Legal Aid, subject to qualifying criteria. Additionally, some solicitors offer services on a conditional fee basis, where payment is contingent on the outcome of the case.

Who is responsible for paying family law costs

In family law disputes within England and Wales, the general rule regarding legal costs is that each party bears their own costs. However, this is subject to the court’s discretion, and costs orders can vary based on the specifics of the case.

Legal costs orders in family law cases

Although each party is expected to pay their own costs, there are some instances where one party is ordered to pay the costs of the other party. Orders for costs are common in cases where a party has acted unreasonably. This is when a party fails to comply with court rules or protocols, or their conduct otherwise unnecessarily complicates proceedings.

Other reasons might include failing to accept a reasonable settlement offer that would have resolved the dispute earlier, thereby avoiding further legal costs.

Legal costs for unreasonable behaviour

KS v ND

In the case of KS v ND (Schedule 1: Appeal: Costs) [2013] EWHC 464 (Fam), the legal dynamics unfolded around the father’s contribution towards the school fees for the couple’s seventeen-year-old son. Mr Justice Mostyn, presiding over the case, ordered the mother to pay £13,000 of the father’s costs. This decision was influenced by the observation that the legal costs “completely dwarf the sums” being contested over. Mr Justice Mostyn expressed his frustration with such disproportionate litigation expenses, stating:

“Time and again judges point out the madness of litigating in this way; and time and again their admonitions fall on deaf ears. At the end of the day, all we can do is to express concern about such extreme folly, and if it is ignored, then the parties will have to live with, and take responsibility for, the consequences of their decisions.”

This case serves as a critical example of how family law courts exercise their discretion in awarding costs, emphasizing the risks of escalating legal fees in disputes over relatively modest sums.

The Matter of G (Children)

Another noteworthy case, G (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1017, involved a father who was penalized for his conduct during legal proceedings against the mother of his child. The court labelled the father as “obsessed” with the mother, asserting that he utilized the legal process to intimidate and harass her. The father’s behaviour led to a Costs Order being issued against him due to his unreasonable actions within the proceedings.

The appeal against this Costs Order was heard by Thorpe LJ, who dismissed it, affirming the original decision. The court found that the father had engaged in unreasonable behaviour by initiating unnecessary proceedings, using these proceedings as a means to harass the mother, and bringing forth claims that were wholly without merit and based on unfounded allegations.

These cases underline the significant discretion courts hold in issuing Costs Orders and highlight the potential consequences of unreasonable behaviour in family law proceedings.

The process of recovering family law costs

If an inter partes costs order is granted in your favour, the process to recover these costs involves several steps:

  • Assessment of Costs: If the amount is not agreed upon by the parties, the court may order a detailed assessment.
  • Bill of Costs: The party entitled to costs must prepare a detailed bill of costs, which itemises all expenses claimed.
  • Costs Assessment Proceedings: The costs are then assessed, either through a detailed assessment hearing before a Costs Judge or an agreement between the parties facilitated by negotiations.

Role of a Costs Draftsman or Lawyer in Costs Recovery

Costs draftsmen, or costs lawyers, specialise in the preparation and negotiation of legal costs. They are instrumental in several aspects, providing a range of legal services:

  • Inter Partes Costs Orders: They prepare detailed bills of costs and represent clients in negotiations and any necessary hearings to determine the costs payable by one party to another.
  • Recovery of Legal Aid Costs: In cases funded by legal aid, costs draftsmen ensure that costs are claimed in accordance with legal aid regulations and are responsible for submitting claims to the Legal Aid Agency.

Costs lawyers are also crucial in providing strategic advice on cost management during litigation, helping to ensure that legal expenses are kept within reasonable limits and are recoverable at the end of the case.

Legal aid family law costs

Our panel of family law costs experts regularly assist in all types of costs claims, including publicly funded and inter-partes costs claims. In inter-partes disputes, they can also assist either paying parties and receiving parties.

Using their expert costing services, they help clients maximise their recovered legal costs whilst providing expert legal advice and minimising the risk of rejected claims from the Legal Aid Agency, to ensure you maintain your KPIs.

They regularly use the CCMS system to submit legal aid costs claims and deal with all the administration on behalf of their clients and to free up the time of fee earners, thereby ensuring you can recover your maximum legal aid fees in an expeditious and efficient manner. 

How can Expert Family Law assist?

Expert Family Law have a panel of family costs experts who can be instructed to assist on all legal costs matters. 

Contact us today using the form below, or view our costs experts in our services directory to get in touch with an expert directly. 

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