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In this guide you'll learn about Legal Services Orders, and when it might be possible to get your ex-spouse to pay your legal fees. We'll cover:

  • What is a Legal Service Order?
  • Am I eligible?
  • What are the alternatives?
  • And more

Let's dive in...

What Is A Legal Services Order?

A Legal Services Order, more commonly referred to as an LSPO (or "Legal Services Payment Order") is an order made by the court that one party in divorce proceedings must pay the legal fees of another.

A Legal Service Order is most common where one spouse has less ability to fund their legal fees than the other. However, it's important to note that legal service orders are only ever made in very limited circumstances.

Legal Services Order Infographic

How Does A Legal Services Order Work?

If the court decides to make a legal services order, it will tell your spouse to make a financial contribution towards some, or all, of your <bloglink>legal fees<bloglink> during the divorce. The court order will set out:

  • Who ho is going to pay
  • The amount that is to be paid, and
  • When payment is to be made.

The court can order payments in a number of ways, such as:

  • A one off lump sum payment
  • Payment by regular instalments during the case
  • Payments to cover a specific period only (eg only a specific stage of the case)
  • Deferment of payments

If you are the one ordered to pay, this is not something you should ignore. It is a binding court order, and if payment isn't made on time your ex-spouse can take you back to court to enforce payment.

If you are the one receiving the payment, be aware that the funds must only be used for your legal expenses. It does not form part of your <bloglink>divorce settlement<bloglink> or other money you might receive from your partner such as <bloglink>maintenance payments.<bloglink>

How Long Does A Legal Services Order Last For?

An LSPO will only be ordered for the duration of your <bloglink>divorce proceedings<bloglink>, or a for a specific stage of your proceedings only.

Image of a hand holding a watch

Am I Eligible?

You might be eligible for a legal services order if:

  • 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, or litigation funding
  • Your solicitor is not willing to enter into a Sears Tooth Agreement
  • You cannot place a charge against any property you own
  • You are not entitled to Legal Aid

These are the basic criteria you must meet to potentially be eligible for a Legal Services Order.

However, before the court will make such an order, they will also take into consideration:

  • Has the party asking for the LSPO behaved reasonably? For example, have they tried to settle the claim or attempted mediation?
  • How will the LSPO affect the paying party? Will they still be able to afford their own legal fees?
  • What is the financial position of either party? If the paying party does not provide adequate disclosure of their finances, the court will make "robust assumptions" about their ability to pay.

Remember, this kind of payment order is only available in divorce proceedings. And even if you meet all the criteria above, the court still has a wide discretion over whether or not to make an order. Your ex-partner will also have the opportunity to tell the court why they think such an order shouldn't be made.

The court will also consider whether you have good prospects of achieving a favourable outcome at the end of the case. If your claim is highly speculative, the court is far less likely to make an LSPO.

How Do I Apply For A Legal Services Order?

To apply for an LSPO you (or your solicitor) must:

  • Complete the <bloglink>form D11<bloglink> application
  • Attach a witness statement to your application, giving your reasons for seeking the order and any financial evidence
  • Your application should include detail about the amount of legal fees you are asking for help with
  • Send the application and attachment to the court, and a copy to your spouse (or their solicitor)

An application for an LSPO is made under sections 22za and 22zb of the <bloglink>Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.<bloglink> These sections were added after access to legal aid for divorce cases was severely restricted in 2013. However, it's still very hard to get funding for divorce cases- legal services orders are only ever made in very limited circumstances, so you should speak to a solicitor before making an application as they will be able to advise you on your individual case.

Can An LSPO Help With The Costs or Mediation Or Arbitration?

Yes, if the court considers it appropriate, they can order our spouse to help pay for the costs or alternative resolution methods, such as <bloglink>divorce mediation<bloglink> or arbitration.

A woman attends mediation

Do I Still Have To Negotiate With My Ex-Partner?

Just because you have an LSPO doesn't mean that you shouldn't still try to negotiate with your ex-partner where possible. You might want to try and reach an agreement with them outside of court, or use a collaborative law process.

You certainly don't have to come to an agreement, but be aware- If the court thinks you've behaved unreasonably or just simply refused to engage at all, they can penalise you by reducing the amount of costs you are awarded.

What Are The Alternatives To A Legal Services Order?

If you are unable to get a legal services order, there are a number of other ways to fund your legal fees. For example you could:

Each option will have its own pros and cons which you should consider before making a decision.

You can learn in more detail about possible ways to fund your divorce in my specialist guide:

Can My Ex-Partner Appeal A Legal Services Order?

Yes, your ex-partner can appeal a legal services order. They must do this within 21 days of the order being made. If they do not, they will need permission from the court to appeal at a later date.

What If My Ex-Partner Doesn't Pay The Legal Services Order?

If your ex-partner does not make the payments set out in the legal services order, you can contact their solicitor to try and agree a different payment plan. If this is not possible, you can apply to the court for an enforcement order. This will require your ex-partner to attend a hearing where they will explain why they have not made the payments.

What If My Circumstances Change After The Legal Services Order Is Made?

If your circumstances change after the legal services order is made, you should contact your solicitor as soon as possible. They may be able to negotiate with your ex-partner's solicitor on your behalf to agree a different payment plan. If this is not possible, you can apply to the court to vary (change) the order.

What's The Difference Between A Legal Services Order And Maintenance Pending Suit?

A legal services order is only ever made to help with legal fees. <bloglink>Maintenance pending suit<bloglink> can be ordered to help you pay your living expenses (such as rent etc).

You can apply for both legal services order and maintenance pending suit.

Can I Claim For Legal Expenses Already Incurred?

A legal services order generally provides for payment towards your future legal costs. Only very rarely will a court order reimbursement of legal expenses you have already incurred. To do so the court must be satisfied that, if the order were not made, you could not afford your legal fees for the remainder of the case.

Can We Agree To Share Payment Of Our Legal Fees?

Yes. If you want to agree to share legal costs, they you can record this in a <bloglink>consent order<bloglink> and submit it to the court for approval.

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Neil Johnstone is a barrister and the founder of Neil is a barrister with an interest in all forms of civil and family law, and has appeared at all Court levels, up to and including the Court of Appeal.

Neil started this site in response to a common problem he noticed: Clients were unable to pursue deserving cases due to a lack of up-front funds. Neil knew that better access to No-Win-No-Fee representation and legal funding could help bridge the gap, and so founded; a unique comparison site connecting clients, law firms, and specialist funders.

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