ontario specific information but
similar services exist in other parts of canada
What is Legal Aid Ontario?
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. For up-to-date information on income eligibility, visit legalaid.on.ca.
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 that you can use with any lawyer who will accept it. It will be for a specific number of hours. Over the course of your case, your lawyer can contact LAO to request additional hours if needed.
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 LAO will take some of the money to cover the cost of 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.
Family violence authorization forms
You may be able to receive an LAO authorization form for up to two 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 two hours per legal issue in one calendar year.
The lawyer cannot start a proceeding for you, but they can provide you with legal
advice and give you information about applying for a legal aid certificate.
Most shelters and some other community agencies are authorized to provide these forms.
Mediation and separation agreement independent legal advice (ILA) certificates
If you qualify financially, you can receive up to six 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, negotiating with your ex-partner, mediation, preparing and reviewing a separation agreement, as well as finalizing the agreement and converting it into a court order.
Family Law Service Centre
These centres, funded by LAO and available in some communities, 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.
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 FLIC. The advice lawyer can answer legal questions, provide summary legal advice and review legal documents.
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.
Summary legal advice
Financially eligible clients can receive summary legal advice about their family law matter at LAO’s toll-free telephone number: 1-800-668-8256. This service is available Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.
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.
If you identify as a survivor of abuse, your call will be fast-tracked.