A Profile of Legal Aid Services in Family Law Matters in Canada
- 2.4 New Brunswick
In 1972, Legal Aid New Brunswick was established as a joint responsibility of the provincial government and the New Brunswick Law Society, and with funding from the government and the Law Foundation. At the time of its establishment, the services of Legal Aid New Brunswick were administered by the Law Society, and this organization was responsible for providing access to legal assistance for both criminal and civil law matters. Legal aid clients applied for certificates issued on the basis of financial eligibility, and could then access the services of lawyers in private practice.
Civil legal aid in New Brunswick was abolished in 1988 and was replaced with Domestic Legal Aid, which was available only to spouses who were victims of domestic violence. A ceiling of $1,000 was placed on the amount that any domestic legal aid case could cost. A review of Domestic Legal Aid, conducted in 1992 jointly by the Department of Justice and the Law Society of New Brunswick, found that services and coverage were seriously deficient, with costs becoming unmanageable, and the Department of Justice proposed the creation of a new Domestic Legal Aid service that would be staffed by contracted lawyers (Department of Justice and Legal Aid New Brunswick 2001). In 1993, a portion of Domestic Legal Aid became part of the Family Support Services provided by the Court Services Division of the Department of Justice, and would include, for the first time, the services of Court Social Workers trained to screen for domestic abuse, provide paralegal support for the contract lawyers, and offer mediation to clients who were not victims of abuse. Legal Aid New Brunswick continued to provide legal services in guardianship and child support cases.
As of April 1, 2001, Legal Aid New Brunswick assumed responsibility for all legal services of Domestic Legal Aid. The current model for family legal aid services in New Brunswick is primarily staff; however, both contracted lawyers and members of the private bar on tariff provide legal services. The Court Services Division of the Department of Justice maintains responsibility for managing the intake, information, counselling, mediation, and settlement services provided by the Court Social Workers
Domestic Legal Aid in New Brunswick provides a wider range of legal representation to individuals who are victims of family violence than to individuals who are not victims. At intake, the Court Social Workers meet with clients who seek assistance with separation and divorce-related matters, including clients who may require legal services to resolve these matters. Court Social Workers serve as the referral agents for the legal component of Domestic Legal Aid. Victims of spousal violence who are eligible for legal aid coverage can receive assistance with the following issues: support; custody and/or access; marital property (related to possession of the marital home or division of marital property in cases where the equity does not exceed $20,000); restraining orders; interim relief orders; variations of existing orders; and divorce as a respondent or, if there is an urgent need, as a petitioner.
Legal aid services are more restricted when the applicant is not a victim of family violence, and are limited to issues involving support. In these cases, the provision of services is determined by the Court Social Worker, and is limited to: mediation related to issues such as support, custody and/or access, and basic marital property (in which equity does not exceed $20,000); variations; and providing a referral to a Domestic Legal Aid family lawyer who will provide representation whenever necessary (i.e., if mediation fails or is not an option) for all clients who are or would be beneficiaries of support in support applications, support variations, or support enforcements.
In addition, payers of support who have been found unable to pay in accordance with their support obligation are eligible to apply for legal aid certificates, in order to have a private lawyer help them with an application to vary the support obligation. However, they must first have attempted to use the Domestic Legal Aid program’s free mediation services. As well, respondents to applications by the Ministry of Family and Community Services for child custody or guardianship are entitled to apply for legal aid coverage.
There are no financial eligibility criteria associated with the Domestic Legal Aid program except in the following two instances: respondents in child guardianship matters, and payers of support who have been found unable to pay in accordance with their legal obligation and have also not been able to obtain a resolution through use of the Domestic Legal Aid mediation services. Such respondents may apply to Legal Aid New Brunswick for certificates, which are issued on the basis of the financial eligibility criteria established by Legal Aid New Brunswick.
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