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What is a legal services payment order?

View profile for Emma Roberts
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Divorce rates between heterosexual couples hit 45-year low

A legal services order is an order for one party to make a payment to another party for the purpose of funding specific legal services. This is also known as a legal services payment order (LSPO).

Due to public funding cuts, many people do not now qualify for support who previously may have done and hence many struggles with affording legal fees around divorce and related financial matters. Within divorce law it is also common for one spouse to have very different financial means to their partner to fund their representation and a legal services order can assist.

What types of payments are available under a legal services order? 

  • A one-off payment
  • Payments in instalments
  • Payments for a specified period - this can cover the whole duration of the proceedings. It can also cover payments until a particular stage of the proceedings
  • Deferred payments

Who can apply for a legal services order?

Legal services orders are only available to married couples or those within a civil partnership. The payment is available within divorce/dissolution proceedings, financial remedy, nullity and judicial separation proceedings.

Is an order for maintenance pending suit same as a legal services order?

In short no. A legal services order directs one party to pay the other a sum of money to allow them to obtain legal services. This is different to maintenance pending suit which is used to cover basic needs and expenditure of a spouse until the divorce is finalised.

You can apply or consider applying for both a maintenance and legal services order depending on the complexity of the case and value of the matrimonial assets.

How can I apply for a LSPO?

An application for a legal services order is considered by a family court under sections 22za and 22zb of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

To apply for an LSPO the applicant is required to submit:

  • The application which is completed on form D11
  • Supporting statement setting out the reasons for seeking an order and evidence of inability to obtain alternative funding such as a loan
  • A draft order

What do I need to provide to obtain a legal services order?

To successfully obtain a legal services order you must be able to satisfy the court that you cannot fund legal services through the following:

  • You do not have sufficient funds to pay for legal services whereas your partner does have sufficient funds
  • You cannot reasonably get a loan to pay for the services – to satisfy this you need to provide two rejection letters from the bank or credit card company
  • Your legal advisor is not willing to enter into a Sears Tooth Agreement (for your legal fess to be settled at the end of the case);
  • You cannot place a charge against any property you own
  • You are not entitled to Legal Aid

What does the court consider when making a LSPO?

The court must consider the following when deciding on whether to or not to make legal services order:

  • The income and earning capacity of both parties
  • The conduct of the party directed to pay the money and especially whether they attempted mediation
  • The effect the order will have on the party paying. i.e., can they pay their own legal fees in addition to those of their spouse?
  • The financial needs and obligations of both parties, whether each party is legally represented, any attempts made by the applicant to avoid proceedings and the amount already owed to the paying party in respect of proceedings

How long does a LSPO last?

The order does not last for an indefinite term as it only covers the legal costs of proceedings or a specific aspect of proceedings. The order therefore may last for the duration of the proceedings or until a specified stage of the proceedings.

Can a legal services order be agreed by consent?

Separating parties can reach an agreement between themselves with respect to the payment of legal fees. In this case an order will not be required. 

What other alternatives are there to an LSPO?

There are some alternatives that can be explored to help pay legal fees, for example:

  • Borrow money from your spouse if you remain amicable
  • Borrow money from friends and family
  • Utilising funds from a credit card
  • Personal loans
  • Obtaining a loan from a credit union
  • Legal expenses insurance. This already may be in place with your home or car insurance policy
  • Reaching an agreement with your representatives to pay from your financial settlement