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Post #32372 by James on October 18th 2010, 3:58 PM (in topic “Confusion about Legal Aid”)

Confusion about Legal Aid

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?

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