Legal Aid for most children, divorce and financial matters in private family law cases ended in April 2013. Legal aid is, however, still available, if you are eligible, in a number of areas.
You might be eligible for Legal Aid for the following:
protecting yourself or your child from abuse or harassment, such as domestic violence or forced marriage
advice on finances, children or divorce if you’ve been in an abusive relationship
Social Services involvement with your family where a child is at risk of being taken into care, including court proceedings brought by Social Services in relation to a child
family mediation, for example if you’re separating or getting a divorce
child abduction: to secure an order to prevent the unlawful removal of a child from the UK or to secure the return of a child unlawfully removed from the UK
where a person is a party to family proceedings and is under 18 years of age
Exceptional case funding
You may be able to get Legal Aid in other exceptional cases, if you can show that being refused it would infringe either your rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) or your EU rights to legal representation, or indeed where your particular circumstances require it
Emergency help is available if you need urgent representation in court, for example to keep you and your children safe from domestic abuse. Your solicitor will apply for Emergency Legal Representation to cover any immediate action; you still need to apply for Legal Aid in the normal way for any ongoing work.
Obtaining Legal Aid
You will usually need to show that your case is both eligible for Legal Aid, and that you cannot afford to pay for legal costs.
You will be required to give information about the following for both yourself and your partner:
benefits - including benefits statements
income, savings and spending - including pay slips and bank statements for the last three months
National Insurance numbers
If you are under 18, you may need to give information about your parents’ or guardians’ income.
However, Legal Aid might not cover all the costs of your case. You may have to contribute to some of the costs upfront and/or pay back some of the cost if you win money or property from your case.
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will make a charge or claim known as the ‘statutory charge’ on any money or property you win. If this is your home, payment can be deferred and the debt placed as a charge on your home (similar to a mortgage).
You may also have to provide evidence about your difficulties, for example in a divorce case, by providing a Court Order or a letter from Social Services showing that you or your child have been a victim of abuse. There is more information (below) regarding domestic abuse or violence cases.
You will also need copies of evidence relating to your case, which might be
marriage and birth certificates (for Family cases)
You need to tell your solicitor if any of your financial circumstances change so that the Legal Aid Agency can be updated.
Your financial situation is not taken into account in the following scenarios:
you are a parent who has received a letter from Social Services asking you to attend a meeting about the possibility of your child being taken into care (pre-proceedings)
you are a parent involved in court proceedings (Emergency Protection Order, Care or Supervision Proceedings)
Domestic abuse or violence
Many people think that domestic abuse is limited to violent behaviour, which means some victims may not seek help. However, the definition of domestic abuse is any incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between individuals who are associated with each other. This includes people who:
are married or in a civil partnership
have agreed to marry or enter into a civil partnership
have lived together in the same household as a couple
have had an intimate personal relationship of a significant duration
are relatives (parents, children, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews)
are the parents of, or have parental responsibility, for the same child
What is considered to be domestic abuse for legal aid purposes?
You or your children must have been victims of either:
domestic abuse such as controlling behaviours, for example not letting someone leave the house, controlling what they do or what they wear
threatening or emotionally abusive behaviour
financial control, such as withholding money or preventing somebody from earning money
Legal Aid is available for:
injunctions against a violent or abusive partner or family member, including non-molestation orders, occupation orders and orders under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997
forced marriage protection orders
You don’t have to get evidence before talking to a Legal Aid solicitor but your solicitor will need to see it before deciding whether you will be eligible for Legal Aid.
What are the types of evidence needed?
You’ll usually need to show that you or your children were at risk of harm from an ex-partner. You can ask for evidence from:
a multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC)
a health professional: a doctor, nurse, midwife, psychologist or health visitor
a refuge manager
a domestic violence support service
your bank, such as credit card accounts, loan documents and statements
your employer, or education or training provider
the provider of any benefits you’ve received
How do you obtain the necessary evidence?
Legal Aid is not available to assist you in obtaining evidence, but you can download and print a sample letter to send to the police, courts, or medical and social services, available here www.gov.uk/government/collections/sample-letters-to-get-evidence-of-domestic-violence
There are also template letters that organisations can complete to assist in providing the evidence required, found here www.gov.uk/government/collections/legal-aid-cases-of-domestic-violence-and-child-abuse-letters-for-professionals
This letter or letters will help you get the evidence you need, depending on whether you are the victim, your children have been victims. Please bear in mind you might have to pay a fee for obtaining this evidence.
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