It’s important to choose a good lawyer experienced in family law and domestic violence. A good lawyer is one you feel comfortable with; speaks in a way you can understand; tells you about your options; and gives you good explanations.
Your local Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis centre, or Women’s Centre can recommend good lawyers in your area – you really want to avoid having to choose a lawyer by searching the Yellow Pages if possible.
Talk to a lawyer and ask them about their experience and specialist training – and their costs – before you make your decision. Most lawyers charge between $110 and $300 per hour. Find out if you will be charged for a first visit.
Every relationship is different, so it’s difficult to estimate how much it will cost you for legal help for a Protection Order or arranging care of children. It depends on the actions of the other party (i.e. the abuser), and the nature of your issues. You can agree a maximum cost with your lawyer, which means they will have to let you know before they do any more work that will exceed your agreed amount. You may also be able to pay off your lawyer’s fees in instalments.
To minimise your lawyer’s bill, make sure you are prepared for the meetings with all the relevant documents and information. Talk through the emotional issues first with an advocate or support person, so you are able to be clear and concise when you’re meeting your lawyer. Take a domestic violence advocate with you.
If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may be eligible for Legal Aid, whereby all or some of a lawyer’s fees are paid for you. Anyone who needs a lawyer and can’t afford it can apply for this assistance. You don’t need to be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident. If you’re under 20, however, there are special conditions.
You can apply for Legal Aid by filling out a form at the lawyer’s office. You must provide some details about your income and assets, and then the Legal Services Agency considers your application. If you’re on a benefit, you will probably be granted Legal Aid, but if you are working you might not be eligible.
Are there any costs with Legal Aid?
If you’re applying for a Protection Order, Legal Aid can be given as a grant: there is no fee and you don’t have to pay back your legal costs.
In other Legal Aid applications, including for care of children, you have to pay a fee of $50 when you apply. If you do not have this money, you may be able to pay the amount off in instalments, or not have to pay it at all.
There can be conditions (costs or time-limits) attached to Legal Aid:
- You can be required to pay back the cost of Legal Aid by instalments.
- A charge can be put on your belongings (house or other assets), which means that there is no immediate cost, but if you ever sell your house (or other asset) – even years later – you will be required to pay back the cost of Legal Aid. This could be thousands of dollars.
- Other charges can be linked to the court outcome, so that the Legal Aid costs will be taken out of any money awarded to you by the judge.
The Legal Services Agency has more information on Legal Aid.
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