Legal aid is a term generally used to refer to free legal assistance and/or representation. The types of family legal aid available will vary from one jurisdiction to the next, but may include assistance with divorce, domestic violence, paternity, child support, and custody cases. The criteria for qualifying for legal aid representation will also vary, but generally requires that the individual meet income and residency guidelines.
Most countries around the world offer some type of legal aid to low-income residents in need of legal advice or representation. Within the United States, each state has at least one legal aid organization. The types of cases handled by the organization and the guidelines for accepting clients are determined by the organization itself.
Divorce cases are almost always one of the types of cases handled by a family legal aid organization. A divorce can be expensive for anyone on a fixed or low income. The filing fee alone can be a bar for many individuals to obtain a divorce. If accepted as a client, an attorney will file the required paperwork and represent the client throughout the legal proceedings.
Another type of case frequently handled by a family legal aid organization is a protective order or domestic violence case. Many victims of domestic violence do not know their legal rights or do not know how to utilize the courts to help protect their rights. A legal aid attorney can held a victim petition the court for a protective order, which will order the abuser to refrain from contacting or coming near the victim.
Paternity is when a father of a child born out of wedlock legally establishes that he is the father of the child. In order to have visitation or custody rights to the child, a father must first establish paternity. In addition, a mother must establish paternity before the father is legally obligated to pay child support. A family legal aid organization may be able to help either the mother or father establish paternity. Along the same lines, child support must be ordered once paternity has been established, which may also be handled by a legal aid attorney.
Custody battles between parents are rarely accepted by legal aid organizations. If, however, a child has been removed from the home by the local child welfare agency, then a family legal aid organization may decide to represent the parents in the ensuing court case. In many cases, the family may lack the financial resources or education to properly care for the children, in which case the legal aid organization may not only provide legal assistance, but help the family locate the community resources necessary to better parent the child.