Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) provides a wide range of legal assistance for low-income people. LAO has special family law services for people experiencing domestic violence, regardless of immigration status. Eligibility criteria for some of LAO’s services are different for people who have experienced domestic violence.
What is the certificate program?
You may be able to get a legal aid certificate, which will allow you to hire a lawyer to represent you in your family law case. Your legal issue must be one that is covered by LAO and you must qualify financially. If you are eligible, you will be given a certificate, which you can use with any lawyer who will accept it. It will be for a specific number of hours. Your lawyer can contact LAO to request additional hours if needed over the course of your case.
Even if your income is too high for you to qualify or you own property, you may be able to get a legal aid certificate. LAO can place a lien on your property, which means when you sell that property (for example, your family home) LAO will take the money that it provided through your certificate. Or, LAO may offer you a contribution agreement, which means that LAO pays for your lawyer and you pay LAO back at an agreed upon monthly rate.
There are different financial eligibility criteria for people who have experienced domestic violence. These are the annual income levels, depending on family size:
Single person: lower than $20,225
Two family members: lower than $30,337
Three family members: lower than $34,832
Four family members: lower than $41,573
Five family members: lower than $48,315
What are Family Violence Authorization Forms?
You may be able to receive an authorization form from LAO for up to 2 hours of free legal advice in the areas of family and immigration/refugee law. You can use this form with lawyers on an approved list. You may use up to 2 hours per legal issue in one calendar year.
The lawyer cannot start a proceeding for you, but can provide you with legal advice and give you information about applying for a legal aid certificate.
Can LAO help me with mediation or a separation agreement?
If you qualify financially you can receive up to 6 hours of independent legal advice before, during and after mediation. Financial cut offs are higher than they are for a full representation certificate. You can talk to a lawyer to learn how the mediation process works, to prepare for mediation sessions, to review settlement offers and to get a court order to enforce the terms of the mediation agreement.
If you and your ex-partner are trying to resolve custody, access, support or property division issues with a separation agreement, you may be able to get a certificate for up to 10 hours of legal representation. As with the mediation ILA, financial cut offs are higher than they are for a full representation certificate. You can use this certificate for obtaining and reviewing disclosure, preparing a sworn financial statement, negotiation with your former partner, mediation, preparing and reviewing a separation agreement, as well as finalizing the agreement and converting it into a court order.
What is the Family Law Service Centre?
These centres, funded by LAO, provide services to financially eligible clients who are going to family court.
The centres provide assistance with document completion as well as referrals to staff advice lawyers. Some centres provide full representation by a staff lawyer. Where appropriate, clients can be referred to a private lawyer who does legal aid work.
What is Duty Counsel?
Family court duty counsel lawyers provide immediate legal assistance to low income people who are at court without a lawyer. They can give advice about legal rights, obligations and the court process and can help negotiate and settle issues as well as review or prepare court documents to be filed.
They may be able to assist in the courtroom with child protection and garnishment and support hearings as well as to request an adjournment or argue a motion. Where the issues are not complicated, they may be able to assist with a hearing for custody access or support.
Why should I use the FLIC or Family Law Information Centre?
Clients who are new to the court system or do not have a lawyer can receive free assistance and information at the FLIC. The advice lawyer can answer legal questions, provide summary legal advice and review legal documents.
Where can I get legal advice?
Financially eligible clients can receive summary legal advice about their family law matter at LAO’s toll-free telephone number. This means the lawyer will get some basic information from you about your situation and will then briefly provide you with some initial legal advice to assist you in deciding on your next steps. Summary legal advice is not the same thing as legal representation: the lawyer will speak with you only once, will not complete court documents and will not accompany you to court.
To make the best use of the 20 minutes the lawyer can spend with you, you should prepare a summary of your situation, make a list of questions and gather any relevant court documents.
You can get more information about LAO services on the website or by calling the toll-free number 1-800-668-8258 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm).
If you identify as a survivor of abuse, your call will be fast tracked.