If you can't afford to hire a lawyer for your whole case, you can still talk to a lawyer for general advice. Some lawyers also provide "unbundled" or "limited scope" services. This means they agree to help you with part of your case. For example, preparing for a trial or case conference.
You may also be able to find legal help in other places. Some of these options include:
- Legal Aid Ontario (LAO). If your income is low enough, LAO pays for a lawyer to help with your case. LAO also offers other services such as a telephone information and referral service, free consultations with a lawyer if you have experienced domestic violence, and various in person centres and services.
- Community Legal Clinics (CLCs): Some CLCs across Ontario give free legal help or advice on family law issues to people who have low incomes.
- Justice Net: This is a not-for-profit that helps people in Ontario whose income is too high to get legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees. They offer services for a fee based on income.
- Alternative Dispute Resolution: Some family law professionals use alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes such as mediation and arbitration to help couples resolve their issues. A family law professional is a neutral person trained in helping people reach an agreement without going to court. Deciding which process is best for you depends on the facts of your situation and what you want. For example, a mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but an arbitrator does.
You can also try calling the lawyer offices in your area and see if they offer a free consultation on family law matters.
It can be useful to get legal information and help before you make decisions or even before you talk to a lawyer.
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has some services for people of all income levels. These include:
Telephone information and referrals
LAO gives people of all income levels general information and referrals over the telephone. You can get up to 20 minutes of general legal advice by calling 1-800-668-8258 from Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Family Law Information Centres
There are Family Law Information Centres (FLICs) in every Ontario courthouse that deals with family law. All of the centres have free pamphlets on topics such as separation and divorce, court procedures, and family mediation. Many FLICs also have staff who can give general information and make referrals.
Information and Referral Coordinators (IRCs) can:
- help you understand your needs and the court process
- refer you to other services like counseling, help for abused women and men, addiction support, child and family support, and interpreters
- tell you about ways to resolve your issues without going to court, such as mediation
At some courts, IRCs may only be available at certain times. Contact your local FLIC to find out more.
Family Law Information Program
This is a free online resource that provides legal and practical information on topics such as custody, access, shared parenting, and support.
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. For example, you usually can't get a certificate to pay for a divorce. But you may be able to get a certificate for custody, access, or support issues.
If you have a legal aid certificate, this means that LAO pays a lawyer to work for you. Most legal aid certificates say what work and the number of hours LAO will pay for. You may have to pay for services and hours that are not covered by your certificate. The amount you may have to pay depends on your income and assets.
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.
Separation agreement certificates
LAO may cover the cost of up to 10 hours with a family lawyer to help negotiate and draft a separation agreement.
LAO may cover the cost up to 6 hours with a family lawyer to help clients using mediation. A lawyer can help before, during, and after you sign a mediation agreement.
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 financial eligible, they may be able to give you legal advice specific to your case.
Family Law Service Centres
LAO has 9 regional Family Law Service Centres 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 3 Family Law Offices where lawyers and paralegals assist people with family court cases. These offices accept legal aid certificates.
Some community legal clinics (CLCs) across Ontario give free legal help or advice on family law issues to people who have low incomes.
To get legal advice from them, you must normally live in the area the clinic serves and your income and assets must be below a certain level. To find your CLC, you can search by your postal code.
If your CLC offers legal services on family law issues, the services they offer can include:
- free consultation and information
- information and services to help you prepare for your case
- a clinic advocate, who may be a lawyer, community legal worker, or law student, who represents you in court
- referrals to a private practitioner, duty counsel, or community agency
If your clinic can't help you, they may be able to refer you to a private lawyer, duty counsel, or other resources that can help you.
Student Legal Aid Services Society (SLASS)
There are a few student legal aid clinics that are staffed by law students who are supervised by lawyers. These clinics are part of law schools located at the University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, Queen's University (Kingston), University of Windsor, Lakehead University (Thunder Bay), York University (Toronto), and Western University (London).
If your income is low enough, you may be able to get help with custody, access, and child support. Some student law clinics can also help with other family law issues like restraining orders and spousal support. They don't help with cases in the Superior Court of Justice.
JusticeNet is a not-for-profit that helps people in Ontario whose income is too high to get legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees. They refer people to lawyers, paralegals, and mediators that provide legal services at lower rates for some clients depending on income.
JusticeNet's website allows you to search for one of these professionals by area of law, or by location. You can also call 1-866-919-3219 or 416-479-0552 in the Toronto area.
You may want to get help from a family law professional. These are neutral people who are trained to work with both of you to help you reach an agreement or make a decision for you.
Family law professionals work in:
- collaborative family law
- parenting coordination
All of these processes are sometimes called alternative dispute resolution (ADR). They help solve your issues without going to court. Deciding which process is best for you depends on the facts of your situation and what you want. For example, a mediator doesn't make decisions for you, but an arbitrator does.
Some of the reasons to use ADR instead of going to court are:
- You have more control over what happens to your case.
- It can be faster and cheaper.
- It can be less stressful.
- It takes place in a private setting.
But, there are some situations where it may be better not to use ADR, such as:
- There is a history of family violence, mental illness, or drug abuse.
- You can't talk to your partner.
- You can't work cooperatively with your partner.
Each family court location in Ontario offers subsidized mediation services. You can get up to 8 hours of mediation for a fee that is based on each person's income whether or not you're in court. If you're already in court, you may be able to get up to 2 hours of mediation at the court free of charge.
Legal Aid Ontario has a mediation service that is free if you or your partner's income is low enough. These mediators help with issues of custody, access, parenting plans, travel and vacation plans, parent communication, and child support.
You can also find mediators who offer their services at lower rates through JusticeNet. JusticeNet is a not-for-profit that helps people in Ontario whose income is too high to get legal aid and too low to afford standard legal fees.