Unbundled legal services for divorce

Josie Hayes web

Since the decline of legal aid more and more people are choosing not to instruct a solicitor when going through a divorce and financial settlement. In an attempt to save money people often try to reach an agreement between themselves and only consult solicitors when there is a problem or to draft formal documentation.

Whilst for many access to unbundled legal services offers a life line and affordable legal assistance it is important to be aware that when instructing a solicitor on a specific point, the solicitor is only obliged to advise you on that specific point and does not owe a wider duty of care.

In a recent decision, the Court of Appeal confirmed that when approaching a solicitor to have an agreement drafted into a formal Consent Order so that it is in a legally binding form, the obligation on the solicitor is to draw up the agreement. The solicitor is not obliged to provide broader advice on the terms of the agreement or whether it is reasonable.

In the case in question, Minkin v Landsberg [2015], the parties reached an agreement and attempted to draft a consent order themselves. The consent order was not accepted by the court and the wife instructed a solicitor to draft a consent order that would be accepted by the court. The solicitors complied with the instructions and the consent order was then approved and sealed by the court. Later, the wife regretted entering into the agreement and made a claim against the solicitor for professional negligence claiming that they had not advised her about or warned her against entering into the consent order. At first instance the district judge held that the solicitor had a limited retainer and had no duty to give such advice or warnings. On appeal the Court of Appeal agreed that the solicitors had acted correctly and did not have a broader duty to give advice.

There are options available and unbundled legal services may be a sensible option but it is important that you understand the role and remit of your solicitor before proceeding. At Barker Gotelee we can offer a free initial consultation for anyone considering divorce or separation who may need some help and advice.

Josephine Hayes is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Family Solicitors in Ipswich – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email bg@barkergotelee.co.uk