Date last updated: 15 August 2017

Getting legal help

There are some situations when it’s important to get legal help and advice. Some examples could be if you are separating and need to sort out finances, if you could lose your home through repossession or eviction, or if either you or your child is in danger or at risk of being harmed.

If you need legal advice it should always be given by a qualified person who has professional liability insurance, but it can be difficult to know how to find this help.

Some services are free and some will charge. It is important to check this before you receive advice. Public funding for legal costs is known as legal aid. It has become more difficult to get legal aid, and it only covers certain types of legal problems. You generally need to be on a low income to qualify.

The Gingerbread Single Parent Helpline cannot give legal advice, but this factsheet gives you details of organisations that can give legal advice or help you find it.


The Family Mediation Council have produced a guide called ‘When do I need to go to court?’. This can help you to decide if you will need to go to court, or can avoid the court process completely.


 

Sources of support and advice

Using a solicitor

The guide ‘Using a solicitor’ by the Law Society provides information on how to choose a solicitor, the questions to ask and how to prepare for a meeting with them. This can be found on the Law Society website or you can call 0207 320 5650 to request a copy.

Solicitors can help with all kinds of legal matters but it’s important to find one who is experienced in the area of law you need help with.

Employers, trade unions and insurance policies

You could be entitled to free legal advice from an employee assistance programme or a trade union. These can sometimes offer help with legal fees, or provide a telephone helpline service. You should also check any insurance policies (such as car or household) in case they include free legal advice.

Representing yourself

It is becoming increasingly difficult to get help with the cost of legal advice, which means more people have to complete court forms without the help of a solicitor or represent themselves in court. This can be a challenging and daunting experience. Below you will find links to useful resources that may help.

For general information about going to court, and an overview of the court system, see the guide ‘Going to court’ by the judiciary of England and Wales.

Contact arrangements

Advicenow provide useful information on the court process for resolving contact arrangements and financial agreements between you and your child’s other parent, including guides to using the courts without a lawyer.

Finances

The Family Justice Council has a guide to sorting out finances during divorce.

Advicenow has a number of resources on finances including a guide on applying for a financial order without the help of a lawyer, and a guide to sorting out your finances when you get divorced. You can download the guides from the Advicenow website.

Representing yourself in court

Representing yourself in court is often known as being a ‘litigant in person’. As it is becoming more common, there are guides to help you through the process:

McKenzie friends

A McKenzie friend is a person who can help you at court if you’re representing yourself. He or she could be an actual friend, or someone who has been through a similar situation. A McKenzie friend can even be a solicitor or barrister who is helping you. There are professional McKenzie friends, but be careful to get a recommendation as they may not have any legal training and will not have indemnity insurance if things go wrong.

For more information on McKenzie friends see the Family Division’s guidance on McKenzie Friends here.

Personal Support Unit

The Personal Support Unit has volunteers who assist people who are going through the courts without representation. See www.thepsu.org.uk  for a list of units throughout the country.

Useful organisations

  • Advicenow
    An independent, not for profit website, run by Law for Life: The Foundation for Public Legal Education, which has lots of information on your rights and the law.
  • Bar Pro Bono Unit
    020 7092 3960
    Barristers who can give free advice and representation in any court or tribunal in England or Wales. You cannot refer yourself, but the website explains how to access the scheme.
  • Civil Legal Advice
    0345 345 4345
    Assess your eligibility for legal aid and signpost to local sources of help.
  • Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner
    You can find an immigration adviser through the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner website. The search function also allows you to search for advisers who don’t charge a fee.
  • Law Centres Network
    020 3637 1330 (Please note that this is not an advice line)
    Law centres are staffed by legal workers, including some solicitors and barristers. They can give initial legal advice and can sometimes take on your case. They generally don’t deal with separation or family work. You can check on the website if there is a law centre near you, and what areas of law they cover.
  • Law Society
    0207 320 5650
    Visit the Law Society website to find a solicitor in your area.
  • The Free Representation Unit
    020 7611 9555
    A charity that provides legal advice. They also offer case preparation and advocacy in employment, social security and some criminal injury compensation cases.
  • Citizens Advice Bureau
    03444 111 444 (England)
    03444 77 20 20 (Wales)
    Find information and advice on a wide range of issues including the court system and your legal rights as a parent.
  • Child Law Advice
    Child Law Advice is operated by Coram Children’s Legal Centre. Specialist advice and information on child, family and education law. Applicable only in England.
  • Disability Law Service
    020 7791 9800
    Free legal advice and representation for disabled people and their families, carers and enablers on a range of issues.
  • Family Rights Group
    0808 801 0366
    Advises parents and other family members whose children are involved with or require children’s social care services. The charity provides confidential advice to those living in England and Wales.
  • Resolution
    01689 820272
    Association of solicitors specialising in family law, who adopt a collaborative approach to family problems. Resolution can provide a list of local solicitors. The website contains free information on issues such as splitting up, parenting apart and child maintenance.
  • Rights of Women
    020 7251 6577 (Family law)
    020 7251 8887 (Criminal law)
    020 7608 1137 (For women in London)
    020 7490 7689 (Immigration and asylum law)
    Free, confidential legal advice by telephone for women on a wide variety of issues. Specialist areas include family law, lesbian parenting, separation, children/contact issues and domestic violence.
  • Shelter
    Freephone 0808 800 4444
    Gives details of local housing advice centres throughout the country and provides information and advice on a range of housing issues.
  • Family Law Panel
    A free directory service for members of the public to access professional and independent family law information. Solicitors and/or mediators offer an initial free advice session and provide tailored support and signposting thereafter. Professionals who can offer support with Domestic Violence are listed with a purple ribbon next to their name.
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Get advice over the phone

Sometimes, it can help to chat through your problems with an expert adviser. Our Single Parent Helpline provides free, confidential advice for single parents, no matter the challenge – we’re here with tailored guidance that works for you.

Run by our partner organisation, One Parent Families Scotland, the Lone Parent Helpline provides free, confidential advice and information for single parents in Scotland.

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