Is Legal Aid Available?
Legal aid is a term that many people associate with free legal advice and assistance.
Most states have programs to assist people in certain circumstances to obtain free legal aid. Some of those programs cover low-income families, those experiencing domestic violence, or persons with disabilities or other limiting circumstances. How can they offer this service? Most states require attorneys contribute a certain number of hours or legal aid to their local community at no charge. This is called pro bono work.
Many people have discovered that unofficial legal aid is available by simply searching the Internet, reading laws and statutes, and asking questions online. The problem with online material is that it can be risky. It may or may not be updated or accurate for your area, you may not be able to get a correct or specific assessment of your situation, and you may not ever meet those from whom you obtain advice or be able to verify their credentials. You will also be required to respond on your own to any requirement that courts may impose, such as showing up for hearings or other legal procedures.
When looking for legal aid, there are safer options to gather information. There are usually form packets with general information provided free or at a minimal cost at your local family court. There are area mediators and financial planners who can assist with decisions and financial planning. There are also attorneys who offer free consults or a limited review of your documents prior to any filing, for hourly fees rather than requiring a large retainer. This kind of service is sometimes referred to as unbundled.
The most important decision you must make is how to deal with the legal ramifications of knowing or not knowing important details and procedures. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to thoroughly research your local options, including contacting your local courts, mediation associations and bar associations, before you proceed.