Q: My partner is verbally abusive to me. I really cannot take any more and I want to end the relationship but I don’t have any money. Even though he has never gone as far as to hit me, could I still qualify for legal aid for family proceedings?
A: Changes to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) on 1st April 2013 led to a change in the scope of Legal Aid for private family cases. As a result divorce, financial and children disputes no longer fall within the legal aid scope unless the applicant has been a victim of, or there is a risk of, domestic violence. In private children disputes the scope does encompass matters where a child, who would be subject to any order, has been or is at risk of abuse from a party to the proceedings.
The Government defines domestic violence and abuse as: Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behavior, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.
Types of abuse include psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. Therefore the fact that your partner has not assaulted you is irrelevant for the purpose of legal aid. Domestic abuse can take many forms and verbal abuse, whether that is threats, intimidation or even name-calling, may fall within the definition for the purposes of legal aid.
For more urgent matters, where a protective injunction may need to be implemented by the Court, there is no requirement to provide proof of domestic violence. All family legal aid is however still subject to an assessment of the applicant’s income and capital means. You should consult a family lawyer as soon as possible.