Legal Aid Ontario publishes financial eligibility guidelines for clients experiencing domestic violence
Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is making it easier for people experiencing domestic violence to get help from a family lawyer by expanding the financial eligibility guidelines for this vulnerable group.
“LAO recognizes that at the time of separation, there’s a greater risk of abuse, and that people experiencing domestic violence are particularly vulnerable when they have to face their partners in court,” says Michelle Squires, who is leading the development of LAO’s Domestic Violence Strategy. “The increased financial eligibility will allow more individuals who have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse to access the legal advice and assistance they need to navigate the complex legal process they must face.”
People experiencing domestic violence – regardless of immigration status in Canada – can get help from a lawyer if their family income is below the levels outlined in the chart. LAO will also take into consideration any financial abuse that the client may be facing.
|Number of family members||Income must be lower than||If you are experiencing domestic violence, you will likely qualify if your gross family income is lower than|
Pamela Cross, Legal Director of Luke’s Place Support and Resource Centre, says that women who have left abusive relationships and are dealing with their abuser in family court without the benefit of legal representation are at a significant disadvantage.
“Their safety is severely compromised at a time that, as the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee’s Annual Reports tell us, risk of lethality is extremely high,” she says. “Too often, they either walk away from family court proceedings with outcomes that are not in the best interests of their children or even return to their abuser because of the emotional stress and fear of having to manage their court case without a lawyer. Legal Aid Ontario’s increased financial eligibility guidelines for victims of domestic violence will ensure that more women in these situations have lawyers. They will be safer and will get better resolutions to their family court cases.”
John McCamus, Chair of LAO, adds, “It is extremely important that families in crisis get the legal support that they need. We know that as many as 50 per cent of people in the family justice system wind up trying to solve their problems on their own because they can’t afford a lawyer. By raising the financial eligibility threshold, we want more support available to people experiencing domestic violence.”
In addition to increasing financial eligibility, LAO will be consulting with the Violence against Women community and others throughout the summer, with the goal of developing a robust domestic violence strategy for LAO.
More information will be available as the consultations begin in summer 2015.