Getting help to pay for legal advice about a family problem

If you have a legal problem, you may be able to get help to pay for legal advice. This know-how explains what help you may be able to get if you have a family problem – that’s a problem to do with things like domestic abuse, sorting out who your children are going to live with if you separate or how often you’ll see them if they don’t live with you most of the time, sorting out your finances or getting a divorce or ending a civil partnership. It will help you understand what legal aid is, when it is available and who can get it.
Money, card reader, cheque book on a table. Photo by Walter Scott

What is legal aid?

Legal aid is a government scheme – a means tested benefit to help you to pay for legal advice and help, family mediation and representation. Sometimes it can also pay for things like an expert's opinion or court fees.

The rules about who can get legal aid and what for changed dramatically in 2013. But some people can still get legal aid. Before you decide to take action alone, find out if you can get legal aid to pay for a lawyer to help you.

Whether or not you can get legal aid depends on what legal problem you have, how much money you earn, what property you own, and your chances of success.

Step 1: Check whether you are financially eligible for legal aid

You can find out if you are financially eligible for legal aid by using this online tool: Check if you can get legal aid.

Step 2: Check whether it’s possible to get legal aid to pay for advice about your particular legal problem

Legal aid is only available for certain types of family problems. You may be able to get legal aid if, for example:

  • You want Family mediation to help sort out practical issues between you and your ex such as arrangements for your children, or your finances.
  • You want to get an injunction against a family member who is abusive or violent.
  • You have suffered or are at risk of suffering domestic violence or abuse from your ex and you want legal help with your divorce or the dissolution of your civil partnership, and/or sorting out your finances and/or the arrangements for your children. (You will need to provide evidence of the domestic violence or abuse. There are complicated rules about what evidence the Legal Aid Agency will want but your solicitor should be able to advise you about this. For a list of the types of evidence the Legal Aid Agency will accept as evidence of domestic violence for the purposes of family law legal aid, see: Domestic violence gateway evidence (PDF).)
  • Your case involves a child (for example, perhaps you are trying to make arrangements about who your child should live with and where they should live, or how often they should see the parent they don’t live with most of the time) and that child is at risk of abuse from another person involved in the case (for example, your ex). You will need to provide evidence of the child abuse.
  • You are at risk of being forced to marry against your will and you want advice about applying for a forced marriage protection order.
  • Social services are involved in the care, supervision or protection of your children. (In cases involving an application for a care order, a supervision order, a child assessment order or an emergency protection order, any child who is the subject of the application and their parents or other people with parental responsibility for them will automatically qualify for legal aid.)
  • Your child has been taken out of the UK without your permission.
  • Your child has been unlawfully removed from you to somewhere within the UK.
  • You are trying to make sure that international or European agreements about your children or maintenance agreements are put in place.

Other family problems

These are not the only family problems you may be able to get legal aid for, but they are probably the most common. Always ask your lawyer or advisor to check if your legal problem is covered.

Exceptional funding

This is funding outside the legal aid scheme’s normal criteria. It is only available in very limited circumstances to people who otherwise won’t get to benefit from their human or European Union rights. For more information about exceptional funding and how to apply for it, see: Exceptional funding.

Step 3: Get a solicitor and apply for legal aid

You apply for legal aid through a solicitor. You can find a solicitor that does legal aid work here: Find a legal aid adviser or family mediator.

If the solicitor you contact says your legal problem isn’t covered by legal aid, it’s worth asking another solicitor for their view. The rules about what solicitors can and can’t advise on and help with paid for by legal aid are often quite complicated and there is a risk, because of this complexity, that you get incorrect advice. For this reason it's important that you speak to a solicitor who specialises in the area of law you want help with.

November 2016

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