Legal aid can help you pay for legal advice, legal representation (and mediation, which is covered here).
For some cases, legal aid is free. If your income is low but not quite low enough, you may have to pay a regular contribution towards the cost.
There were major changes to legal aid made in 2013. To access legal aid, you will need to show that you meet a means test (your income and capital must be quite low), that your case is strong enough (this is called a merits test) and that your case is covered by legal aid (this is called scope).
For most disputes between parents or extended family members, for example about where your child lives/when you see your child, and for disputes about finances when you divorce, legal aid is only available where there is evidence that you are a victim of domestic violence or that the child is at risk of abuse from the other person involved.
If you are a parent (or someone who holds parental responsibility for a child, for example a grandparent with a residence or special guardianship order or a child arrangements order that says the child should live with you) and social services begin court proceedings about the child called “care proceedings” you will be automatically entitled to legal aid regardless of your income. See more here.
If you need to seek an injunction to protect you or your child from domestic abuse, violence or harassment you may qualify for legal aid as long as you meet the means test (the means test is not so strict for injunction cases). See our page about making sure you are safe at court. See also the Advicenow video and accompanying materials about applying for an injunction here.
In cases where your child is at risk of being abducted to another country or has been abducted to another country you may qualify for legal aid as long as you meet the means test.
Some people can also obtain something called “Exceptional legal aid” but this is very difficult to apply for and very difficult to get. It is meant to help people for whom the court process cannot be made fair without them being represented – for example where people really need the help of a lawyer either because the case is so complicated or serious, or because they have a particular difficulty in representing themselves. If you think you might qualify for exceptional legal aid you will probably need to find a solicitor willing to help you fill in the application, or you could ask the Public Law Project for help.
To apply for legal aid, you will need to find a solicitor who does legal aid work. Your solicitor will need to fill out some forms with information provided by you. If it is an emergency, a solicitor may be able to obtain emergency funding before these forms are completed. You will need to give your solicitor documents to submit with your form, such as evidence of your income and savings. You can see the application forms here.