Legal Aid in Family Law Cases

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family law

In the past, Legal Aid was available for all types of family law matters. This changed in 2013, when new rules were introduced. We often receive enquiries which ask if Legal Aid can be obtained for a particular issue, and so here Gillian Colquhoun, a Solicitor in our Family Legal Aid department, takes a look at how it works.

When is Legal Aid available in a Family Law matter?

It depends on what your case relates to. In the following type of case, it is available:-

  • Cases Involving Domestic Abuse: If you are applying for a Non-Molestation Order (sometimes referred to as an injunction) and/or an Occupation Order then you will usually be granted Legal Aid (subject to the means and merits test detailed below). You will need to provide evidence to show that you (or your children) have been the victim of, or are at risk from, domestic abuse. Our recent blog post provides further detail as to the required evidence;
  • Cases with Social Services involvement: This covers instances in which the local authority is taking steps in relation to child protection and care proceedings. In these cases, Legal Aid is automatically available;
  • Forced Marriage Protection Orders: If you are at risk, Legal Aid is available to make an application for an FMPO;
  • Cases involving Child Abduction: This covers cases where the child has been taken out of the UK or relocated inside the UK without the consent of someone with parental responsibility.

When is it generally not available?

Usually, cases relating to Divorce and Finances, as well as Child Arrangements do not qualify for legal aid. If, however, you have evidence of domestic abuse, or child protection, it is still possible to get Legal Aid in these categories. The Legal Aid Agency species the types of evidence they will accept.

Do I automatically get Legal Aid?

All Legal Aid applications are subject to a ‘means and merits’ test:

Means Test

This assesses a person’s financial situation. If you are in receipt of a ‘passporting’ benefit, you should pass the means test. ‘Passporting’ benefits include:

  • Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance;
  • Universal Credit;
  • Income Support;
  • Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance.

If this does not apply, a more detailed assessment of your finances must be carried out, taking into account the below:-

  • Your gross monthly income must be £2,657 or less and your disposable monthly income must be £733 or less.
  • The limit of disposable capital you are permitted to have (such as savings) is set at £8,000. This is looked at even if you receive one of the ‘passporting’ benefits.

The above limits are not applicable in cases involving domestic abuse and forced marriage.

If you have a partner, their means will also be taken into account.

Merits Test

This looks at the case itself- how well will the desired action will deal with the situation? Is it right to spend public funds on it?

Cases relating to Forced Marriage, as well as Care proceedings, automatically pass the merits test.

Expert opinion

It’s important to note that whilst this is just an overview, our team carries out a complete assessment of each case to confirm your entitlement to Legal Aid.

If you have any queries relating to the content of this article, please contact our friendly experts on 0113 284 5000.


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