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How can a person with no money fund a court case?

Following the almost complete loss of legal aid from family cases there is widespread concern that clients are having to accept poor outcomes on the breakdown of relationships simply because no funds are available to do anything about it.  Quite simply and no matter what gloss is put on it by government there is a huge amount of evidence that fewer people now have access to justice than in the past simply on financial grounds.

Not everyone knows it but for a very long time in order to prevent inequality there has been a method by which the courts can level the playing field and require one party to pay for the other's costs as a case progresses. Usually this situation only arises in cases where one of the parties is wealthy but if that person is running down the other's resources the court can step in. 

There is now a specific provision in s 22A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which can result in costs funding provision in divorce and civil partnership cases.  In the case of Rubin (2014) the principles applicable in such cases were set out and provision was made on an interim basis within divorce proceedings. Recently in BC v DE (2016) in proceedings for financial provision under the Children Act 1989 the High Court applied the Rubin principles and made an order covering outstanding costs in ongoing proceedings to make sure that a mother who had a proper case to put before the court was able to do so.  Her costs were broadly level with those of the father and it would not have been fair to put her under severe financial pressure in presenting her case. It was important that she should have "equality of arms".

If you have a good case don't just assume that having no money means that you cannot bring the case.  It is always worth being properly advised before making an informed choice about whether to proceed.

Ian Stirzaker 

Ian is the Senior Partner and Head of Family Law at SME Solicitors. Please contact him or Joanna Gardner for specialist help and advice in all aspects of family law at or

Added: 22 Nov 2016 12:41

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