2. Call Legal Aid Ontario

I can't afford a family law lawyer, where else can I find legal help?
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2. Call Legal Aid Ontario

Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has services to give legal help to people with very low incomes. To get help, you must meet the financial eligibility test. You have to give LAO information about any income, property, or savings that you have.

Legal aid certificates

To get your own lawyer paid for by LAO, you must apply for a legal aid certificate.

But your family law issue must be one that LAO covers. You usually can't get a legal aid certificate to pay for a divorce, except in very rare situations. For example, where there are also immigration issues or where a divorce is needed to deal with financial difficulties, like qualifying for a pension.

You may be able to get a certificate for custody, access, support, or child protection issues. When deciding if you qualify for a certificate, LAO looks at things like:

  • how complex the case is, for example how many legal issues are involved
  • if the person paying support is self-employed
  • literacy issues
  • domestic violence

If you get a legal aid certificate, this means that LAO pays a lawyer to work for you. You should not pay any money directly to the lawyer who accepts your certificate. Your legal aid certificate is meant to cover the entire cost of your matter. If you need more time, your lawyer can ask LAO for more hours.

In some cases, you may need to sign a “contribution agreement”. This is an agreement between you and LAO where you agree to pay back LAO some money based on your income. 

Not all lawyers accept legal aid certificates. You have to find a lawyer who agrees to work for you and accepts your legal aid certificate.

Family violence certificates

If you have experienced partner abuse and need immediate legal help, you can get a free two-hour consultation with a lawyer through the Family Violence Authorization Program. The program is offered through some women’s shelters, community legal clinics, Family Law Service Centres, and by calling LAO toll-free at 1-800-668-8258 to find out more.

Sexual Assault Survivors Pilot Program

If you have experienced sexual abuse and live in Toronto, Ottawa, or Thunder Bay, you might be able to get 4 hours of free advice from a lawyer. You have to complete a voucher request form. Or you can call the Independent Legal Advice for Sexual Assault Survivors Pilot Program at 1-855-226-3904 to find out more.

Restraining order certificates

LAO may cover the cost of up to 6 hours of free legal help to people who have experienced domestic violence and want a restraining order only. If you want a restraining order and other family law orders, you have to apply for a regular legal aid certificate.

In person help centres and services

Family duty counsel

There are family duty counsel available in many court locations in Ontario. They can give advice, speak to the court on your behalf, or help you negotiate a settlement. They can't represent you at trial.

Family advice counsel

There are family advice counsel available in many court locations in Ontario. Advice counsel can give you general information about your legal issues. If you're financially eligible, they may be able to give you legal advice specific to your case.

Metro Toronto Family Law Services

The Metro Toronto Family Law Services program has 8 locations where you can talk to a family lawyer who can answer questions, tell you if there are other legal aid services you can get, and, in some cases, prepare court documents. You must call 416-696-2992 to make an appointment. 

Family Law Service Centres

LAO has Family Law Service Centres in some areas that have staff lawyers and legal workers who can help prepare court documents, provide referral information, and help with applications for a legal aid certificate.

Family Law Offices

LAO has Family Law Offices in some areas where lawyers and paralegals assist people with family court cases. These offices accept legal aid certificates.

Reviewed: July 15, 2019

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