This page provides information on getting help to pay for legal costs for family matters. It explains what legal aid is, when it is available and the type of help it covers. It also provides information on the evidence needed for legal aid in private disputes about arrangements for children.
What is legal aid?
Legal aid is the use of public funds to help to pay for legal advice, family mediation and court or tribunal representation. The Legal Aid Agency is in charge of providing legal aid in England and Wales. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 governs legal aid from 1 April 2013.
There are usually three considerations for legal aid:
- Scope – The matter is within the scope of legal aid
- Means test – you are unable to afford your own legal costs.
- Merits test – the likelihood of success, the reasonableness of the costs and whether a reasonable person would use their own money to pay for the case.
What types of legal aid are there?
Legal aid will pay towards the rates or fixed fees of a solicitor for your case. There are different types of legal aid:
- Legal Help – a solicitor can advise you and negotiate with the other party but cannot represent at court.
- Family Mediation – a solicitor can help with negotiating with the other party through mediation. See our page on Family Mediation for more information.
- Legal Representation – the solicitor can prepare your case and represent you in court or arrange for a barrister to represent you in court.
What family matters can I get legal aid for?
Legal aid is available for the following family issues:
- family mediation, to resolve disputes about children and finance on a relationship breakdown – for more information on how mediation costs can be covered see our page on Family Mediation;
- applications for a non-molestation order or occupation order;
- applications for a restraining order under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997;
- applications for a Child Arrangements Order, Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order, if you or your child have suffered or are at risk of suffering violence or abuse from the other party in the last 5 years. For more information about accepted evidence see the bottom of this page. (Note: the government announced in February 2017 that it will remove the 5 year time limit, so this is subject to change);
- representation for children who are made party to private family law proceedings;
- applications for forced marriage protection orders;
- proceedings brought by the local authority for a care order or supervision order;
- cases where your child has been or is about to be taken out of the UK without your consent;
- exceptional cases, where the refusal of legal aid would infringe your rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) or your EU rights to legal representation;
- from 10 December 2015 onwards, applications for post-adoption contact under section 51A Adoption and Children Act 2002, either where there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse or for a child who is party to the proceedings.
You don’t need to get evidence before talking to a legal aid solicitor or Civil Legal Advice, but evidence will need to be produced in order to assess whether you are eligible for legal aid. You can find legal aid solicitors using the Legal Aid Finder.
Most family cases will be means tested; so you will have to show that you cannot afford to pay legal costs. You will be required to give information about your income, benefits, savings, property and shares and those of your partner.
For some cases you can get legal aid regardless of your financial means. Non means tested legal aid is available if your child is subject of care or supervision proceedings . You may qualify for legal aid for some injunctions, such as a non-molestation order, but you might be required to make a contribution.
To calculate whether you qualify on financial grounds for legal advice there is an online calculator here.
How does an application for legal aid work?
You should contact Civil Legal Advice or approach a legal aid solicitor directly.
The solicitor will need to apply to the Legal Aid Agency for funding. You may be asked to provide documents to the Legal Aid Agency within specific time scales.
If the application is successful, the Legal Aid Agency will issue a legal aid certificate which will set out the amount of money that can be spent on your case and the type of legal aid that you have been granted.
You must inform the Legal Aid Agency of any change in your circumstances.
Evidence needed for legal aid in private family law disputes (Child Arrangements Order, Prohibited Steps Order, Specific Issue Order)
Click on the relevant section below for information on the evidence needed for legal aid if you or your child are or at risk of abuse: