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Confusion about Legal Aid

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My ex-partner and I separated a little more than a year ago.  Up until that time she was working fulltime and I was our childs primary carer whilst doing freelance working at night from home.  After separation I was left with considerable debts and she left with a substantial amount of savings and no financial commitments.  Things initially ran smoothly with a 50:50 shared care and time agreement but a few months after my ex-partner quit her job and a couple of weeks later applied for Legal Aid.  It was at this time when things turned bad.  Obviously the substantial amount of money that she had at separation was hidden, otherwise she would not have been granted legal aid.  It would also seem that the money she received from quitting her job was also not considered.

This year my freelance work has been so slow that I have been on Centrelink benefits since February.  This no doubt has been complicated by the demands of the constant legal battle that has been occurring since my ex-partner received legal aid.  Fortunately Centrelink are fully supportive of my situation and have agreed to support me until next year.  I have no assets and no savings, having used any money I had to manage my debts and pay legal fees.  My situation currently is that I have little money yet still substantial debts and now have an outstanding legal bill of a few thousand dollars that is continuing to grow.  In actual fact, the only way I have been able to pay the bills so far is by using money I had set aside to pay my 2009/2010 income tax, hence going further into debt.

Earlier this year I applied for legal aid through a third party law firm that was recommended by Legal Aid.  This application was rejected because the law firm did not provide details of my assets or income, of which was none at the time.  I appealed the decision a month later providing all documents and a detailed explanation of my situation.  This was again rejected on the same grounds as the initial rejection and then forwarded to the review committee.  once again the application was rejected and now I am left dumbfounded.  I was completely open and honest about my financial situation which is quiet serious and yet for reasons I cannot comprehend, my application has been unsuccessful.

In addition to this I was absolutely enraged when I read one sentence in the letter.  It said further, it is not satisfied from the material submitted in support of the appeal that the legal proceedings have a reasonable prospect of success.  I was of the belief that Legal Aid was a service provided to disadvantaged people, regardless of the likely outcome.  I quote from their website:-

We assist socially and economically disadvantaged people to understand and protect their rights. one of the functions of the legal system is to safeguard people's rights. The legal system can only perform this protective role if people have equitable access to it.

As a father who was the primary carer prior to separation and a 50% carer since, I am fighting to retain what I believe I am rightfully and legally entitled to.  It would seem that Legal Aid is demonstrating prejudice towards me and have also based their decision on their belief that my case will not be successful.  This is interesting because every other legal person I talk to says my case to retain 50% care and time is strong based on my past arrangement.  I have advised Legal Aid that I was the primary carer prior to separation and a 50% carer since, but it would seem that even in their eyes, this is not enough to consider my case will be successful.  My ex-partner is trying to reduce my time with my son to as little as possible.

I am left dumbfounded that my ex-partner can be so deceitful and receive legal aid and yet I have been completely transparent about my situation and have been rejected.  I would have thought any person who quit their long term, full time employment and apply for legal aid a couple of weeks later would ring alarm bells, but this was not the case.  My financial situation is desperate and I have barely avoided having to declare myself bankrupt, yet I cannot get any support at all.

Is there a way in which I can make a formal complaint about my experience?
Is it right for them to base a decision on their belief that I will not win my case?
Do they not know and understand that I have rights as a father and the person who has been the primary carer?

I honestly dont know what more I can do.  My situation is serious and is unlikely to improve until sometime next year. 

 What can I do?
I thought there was a section on the legal aid application in which the legal representative nominated for the grant was required to approve merit. If their application forgot to provide details of your income and assets and it was you personally who pursued the appeal rather than the legal representative one might presume they were not really interested in taking the case.

Go to the duty solicitor at the family court in your city. More than likely he/she will take an interest in the case or refer you to the firms that work legal aid. The big firms seem to have a fast track or direct approval mechanism for legal aid. It might be better to start the process again. On the information provided your case clearly has merit. One would think providing your Centrelink number would entitle a grant.

A subpoena of the others submissions to legal aid might be useful regards their creditability in particular in denying the prior parenting agreement. It might also apply some fraud pressure on the opposition solicitor.
I also recommend going to a new solicitor and starting the application all over again as if it is a new application. This may very well be successful
Legal Aid applications must pass a merit test. Its seems that Legal Aid has assessed your application as not having the required degree of merit.

The matter in dispute - a shift away from 50/50 or not - is really not an issue that warrants legal aid investment of commonwealth funds.

Legal Aid solicitors don't perform that well. They get paid $170 per hour, as apposed to $340+. At $170 per hour, not only will you be competing against the mother, you will be competing with your solicitors other clients who are paying $340+. Your case will receive the least attention.

If you have all this free time, run the matter yourself as an SRL.

4MYDAUGHTER
4mydaughter said
Legal Aid applications must pass a merit test. Its seems that Legal Aid has assessed your application as not having the required degree of merit.

The matter in dispute - a shift away from 50/50 or not - is really not an issue that warrants legal aid investment of commonwealth funds.

Legal Aid solicitors don't perform that well. They get paid $170 per hour, as apposed to $340+. At $170 per hour, not only will you be competing against the mother, you will be competing with your solicitors other clients who are paying $340+. Your case will receive the least attention.

If you have all this free time, run the matter yourself as an SRL.
  Very good advice and information worth following.
srldad101 said
A subpoena of the others submissions to legal aid might be useful regards their creditability in particular in denying the prior parenting agreement. It might also apply some fraud pressure on the opposition solicitor.
You can ignore this. Who and why and what Court would issue a subpoena to Legal Aid? That is 'pie in the sky' and what is fraud pressure?
4MD said
The matter in dispute - a shift away from 50/50 or not - is really not an issue that warrants legal aid investment of commonwealth funds.
Why then would Legal Aid approve merit for the Mother's initiating application?

Conan said
Who and why and what Court would issue a subpoena to Legal Aid? That is 'pie in the sky' and what is fraud pressure?

I did it. Mother returned from refuge 3 days after legal aid placed caveat on her house, purchased a brand new car, enrolled child into private school claiming all fees, adjourned FMC trial on the day and then sought an extension of aid. The opposition solicitor withdrew


Why then would Legal Aid approve merit for the Mother's initiating application?

Well. Women get special treatment. Isn't being a woman some kind of disability?


4MYDAUGHTER
srldad101 said
4MD said
The matter in dispute - a shift away from 50/50 or not - is really not an issue that warrants legal aid investment of commonwealth funds.
 Why then would Legal Aid approve merit for the Mother's initiating application?

Conan said
Who and why and what Court would issue a subpoena to Legal Aid? That is 'pie in the sky' and what is fraud pressure?
  I did it. Mother returned from refuge 3 days after legal aid placed caveat on her house, purchased a brand new car, enrolled child into private school claiming all fees, adjourned FMC trial on the day and then sought an extension of aid. The opposition solicitor withdrew
Did you or did you not get a subpoena issued by the FMC on the Legal Aid Commission to produce a copy of the solicitors submission to Legal Aid?
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