Start with a consultation.
Even if you can’t afford to fully retain a lawyer, you may be able to afford a consultation with one (typically one hour of the lawyer’s hourly rate or even a slightly reduced rate). During the consult you will have the opportunity to explain your situation and express your concerns, and the lawyer will then provide advice with regards to your rights, obligations, and the applicable law. At an initial consultation, your lawyer can provide you with options on how to proceed, outline what amounts you may be entitled to receive, or obligated to pay, in child or spousal support, and explain your entitlement to property. Depending on your situation, there may be some actions that you should take right away, such as filing a Certificate of Pending Litigation against a property or obtaining an order that prevents your spouse from disposing of family property.
Consider why you can’t afford a lawyer.
We often hear from individuals who feel they can’t afford a lawyer because they’re not working or have been locked out of the family bank accounts. If, at separation, you find yourself in a position of financial distress, a lawyer may be able to assist you in obtaining child or spousal support or an interim distribution of family property to relieve this distress.
On the other hand, we often hear from clients who feel they can’t afford a lawyer as they are paying a high level of monthly child or spousal support or they are servicing major family debts post-separation. In speaking with a lawyer, you may discover that you have miscalculated your guideline income for support purposes (did you remember to deduct union dues?) or that you are paying child support but also paying for expenses which are considered to be covered by child support.
Hiring a lawyer doesn’t mean you have to go to court.
Many people are under the impression that hiring a lawyer has to cost tens of thousands of dollars and will result in a trial. There are actually many out-of-court dispute resolution methods that lawyers can assist with, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration, or collaborative law. Read more about those options here.
Consider “Unbundled Services.”
If you can’t afford to fully retain a lawyer, you may still be able to work with a lawyer and obtain assistance and advice on an as-needed basis. What this look like will vary based on the lawyer and your particular needs but may include meetings with the lawyer to review proposals or draft agreements prepared by the other party’s lawyer, assistance in drafting court documents, or coaching for court appearances.
Call the Lawyer Referral Service.
If you can’t afford a lawyer or a consultation, you may consider calling The Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). The LRS is funded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia and operated by the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia Branch (CBABC). The LRS program provides access to justice via the opportunity to have a consultation with a lawyer for up to 30 minutes for a fee of $25 plus tax.
Call the Legal Service Society (Legal Aid).
In certain circumstances, you may qualify as a candidate for legal aid through the Legal Services Society (LSS). To qualify for LSS to pay your legal fees, your issue must be covered under the LSS tariff (this includes family violence, denial of access to a child, and child protection matters) and you must meet the LSS income requirements.