I Can’t Afford A Family Lawyer…Now What?
Is Ontario’s Justice System broken? Accord to a recent study conducted by The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG), 4 in 10 Ontarians do not believe that they have equal and fair access to the justice system. Participants cited affordability as the biggest issue, with over 6 in 10 (62%) reporting to have little or no confidence in their ability to afford a lawyer or paralegal.
Nevertheless, while many Ontarians don’t find the province’s justice system very accessible, more than half of respondents believed that it is more efficient and effective than justice systems in other provinces.
So, Ontario’s justice system is not broken, but there is certainly room for improvement. One of the first steps to improving access is to provide easy-to-find, easy-to-comprehend information that will genuinely help people who need legal assistance, and that’s what we are offering here.
We are well aware that retaining a family lawyer can be expensive, especially if the matter is complex. But cost should not stop a person from finding legal assistance. Below are some of the options anyone can explore if they cannot afford a family lawyer.
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is a non-profit corporation that helps low-income individuals access legal assistance. LAO issues certificates to people who are eligible for them, and they can use these certificates to pay for a lawyer’s services for a certain number of hours. Click here to learn more about what is required to obtain legal aid.
Unbundling of legal services
If legal aid is not an option, individuals can hire a lawyer who will unbundle legal services. That means the person would hire the lawyer under a limited scope retainer, and would receive limited help preparing documents, or would be represented for a specific court appearance.
TAG’s study found that despite all of the legal information available online, only about one quarter of participants used the web to find legal help. That could be due in part to the overwhelming results they might receive when they do a Google search. It’s hard to know where to look, and which websites will provide the most accurate information.
If a person is seriously considering self-representing, or if they simply need more information before seeking legal assistance, Your Legal Rights is an excellent place to start. This site has free, practical, and easy-to-find legal information produced by hundreds of organizations across Ontario.
Steps to Justice will also be a valuable resource. Led by Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO), in partnership with the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice, Social Justice Tribunals Ontario, the Ontario Bar Association, Legal Aid Ontario, The Law Society of Upper Canada, and community and specialty legal clinics, it presents reliable and easy to understand step-by-step information about legal problems so that people can work through their entire family law matter. Steps to Justice will officially launch in January 2017.
Family Law Information Centres
Those that don’t have access to the internet, or who would rather speak to someone in person can visit a Family Law Information Centre, located in family courts across Ontario. Each family court location has pamphlets and other publications on issues related to separation and divorce and child protection matters, the Ministry’s Guide to Family Procedures, information about legal services, and at designated times, an Advice Lawyer from Legal Aid Ontario who can provide summary legal advice.