In April 2013 legal aid was removed for most types of family law. The government has been making cuts across the board and this now includes legal aid. This means that people who were once able to get help with legal fees will no longer be able to do so, except in certain limited circumstances.
The legal aid cuts have affected the following areas of law:
- Divorce will be affected (the legal process of formally ending a marriage or civil partnership)
- Resolving issues regarding children through the family courts whether or not you are married will also be affected, including residence disputes (where a child should live) contact disputes (how much time a child should spend seeing each parent)
- Issues such as whether a child can be taken out of the country, either to live or on holiday or which school a child should go to
- Prohibitive steps applications – restrictions and impositions on what a parent can do with a child and also parental responsibility disputes.
Family finance issues are also going to be affected so you will not be able to get legal aid to decide things such as whether the family home should be sold and what share each person should have of the family assets. All financial issues like sharing pensions, child Support Agency payments and financial support for children generally will all be affected by the cuts to the legal aid system.
When is legal aid still available?
Legal aid is still available where there is domestic violence and a need to get a domestic abuse injunction.
If there have been any recent incidents of domestic abuse to either parent or to a child or a threat that domestic abuse or harm to a child might happen then legal aid may still be available.
The legal definition of domestic abuse is a follows:
- Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between individuals who are associated with each other.
Even if there have been no really recent occurrences of domestic abuse but there has been past incidences of domestic abuse either to you or harm to your children, legal aid may be available for both children disputes and finance cases .
To apply for legal aid you will need to give specific evidence of the abuse and normally this documentary evidence needs to be within a 24 month period before the legal aid application.
You should get a letter from a registered doctor or nurse showing that you have had injuries or a condition consistent with those of a victim of domestic violence and they had no reason to believe that your injuries or condition were not caused by domestic violence. It is important that you visit your doctor as soon as possible if you haven’t already done so.
If your spouse or former partner has a relevant unspent conviction for a domestic violence offence or your spouse or former partner has a relevant police caution for a domestic violence then this will help.
Evidence of relevant criminal proceedings against your spouse or former partner for a domestic violence offence, which have not yet concluded will help and a non-molestation Family Law Act injunction order against your spouse or former partner also.
Similar proof is needed in relation to harm to a child and you may have to pay to obtain a medical report.
There are exceptional cases where legal aid is needed for example if you have a condition or disability that prevents you from representing yourself in court or your case is particularly complex in terms of the facts or the law, then you may be eligible for Exceptional Legal Aid. Please contact one of our Family solicitors to discuss your options.
You can still get legal aid for care proceedings involving your children and the Local Authority and ward ship cases also child abduction cases where a child has been physically removed from your care whether out of this country or abroad and forced marriage protection cases.