Separation and divorce
Getting a lawyer when you have limited resources
Do you need a lawyer to represent you in your legal proceedings but are afraid you can’t afford one? Legal aid, provision for costs or limited scope mandate: There are solutions for you to receive a lawyer’s services free of charge or at little cost.
Legal aid is a public service that allows you to be represented by a lawyer free of charge or at little cost throughout your separation proceedings.
To find out if you’re eligible, you must first make an appointment at a legal aid office for verification.
During this appointment, your financial situation will be assessed. Your income, your scholarships, the money in your bank accounts, your TFSAs and RRSPs, the property you own, your mortgages, and your children’s childcare expenses are among the factors that will be taken into consideration.
Your ex’s financial situation will not affect your eligibility, even if he or she earns a lot of money.
At the end of this appointment, three scenarios are possible:
- You’re eligible for free legal aid and therefore you won’t have to pay any fees ("gratuitous legal aid").
- You’re eligible for legal aid upon payment of a contribution, which means you’ll have to pay fees varying between $100 and $800 ("contributory legal aid").
- You’re not eligible and therefore can’t benefit from the service.
If you’re eligible for either gratuitous or contributory legal aid, you’ll be able to choose the lawyer you want to represent you, who will be paid by legal aid. The lawyer may work in a legal aid office, or work in private practice provided that he or she accepts legal aid mandates.
Payment of legal fees by your ex
In some cases, you can ask the court to order your ex to pay for your lawyer’s fees and other costs related to the legal proceedings. This application is called an “Application for a provision for costs”. In the context of legal proceedings, its purpose is to level the playing field between exes who have disproportionate financial resources.
You can ask for a provision for costs if you’re married or, if you’re not married, if your proceedings concern your children. Therefore, de facto partners who don't have children can’t make this kind of application.
When deciding whether to grant you a provision for costs, the judge has to assess whether you meet the following criteria:
- You’re unable to pay the costs related to the legal proceedings on your own
- Your ex is able to pay these costs for you
- There is a large disparity between your financial resources and your ex’s
- You’re applying for support for yourself or your children
- Your applications and conduct in court are reasonable.
To apply, you can first contact the lawyer of your choice, who will provide you with a fee estimate and help you prepare your application if you wish. This kind of application is generally presented early in the court process, because provisions for costs should only cover future legal costs, not legal costs that have already been paid.
A lawyer for only one part of the case
If you’re not eligible for legal aid, or if you don't meet the criteria for a provision for costs, there aren’t very many options left for free representation by a lawyer. It’s rare to find a family lawyer who will agree to take your case free of cost.
To limit your legal fees, you can choose to entrust only part of your file or only certain tasks to a lawyer. This is called a “limited scope mandate”. For example, you can ask a lawyer to draft your judicial application or help you prepare for your next hearing.
The advantage of this type of mandate is its low cost. Since the lawyer isn’t representing you fully, he or she will work fewer hours on your case, and this will be reflected in the invoice. In many cases, the lawyer can tell you in advance how much will be charged in total. This way, you’ll be more in control of the costs and receive service that is “tailor-made” to your specific needs.
With this type of mandate, however, you’re still responsible for following up on your court file. So make sure you’re ready to commit to this process.
Wondering how to find a lawyer who accepts limited scope mandates? If you already know a lawyer, you can ask this person if he or she accepts this type of mandate. If not, you can find one through the JurisRéférence online service or by calling the offices of the Bar of Montréal at 514-866-2490, the Barreau de Longueuil at 450-468-2609, or the Barreau de Québec at 418-529-0301, ext. 21.
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The information presented on this page is not a legal opinion or legal advice. This page explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. To obtain a legal opinion or legal advice on your personal situation, consult a legal professional.
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