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Government & legal system

Family/civil Legal Aid: For non-criminal cases

Overview of family/civil Legal Aid

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 7, 10, 12

Family/civil Legal Aid is financial help provided by the government to assist with the legal costs of applying to the Family Court or responding to someone else’s application, (for example, responding to a claim from your ex-partner under the Property (Relationships) Act) or a civil case (for example, taking your boss to the Employment Relations Authority).

The Legal Services Act divides all legal cases into “criminal” and “civil”. However, the Legal Aid administrators use the terms “criminal” “family/civil” and “civil/family” instead. They divide civil cases into “civil” (meaning non-Family Court civil cases) and “family” (Family Court cases). This chapter uses the term “family/civil”.

You don’t have to be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident to be able to get Legal Aid.

Applicants must be a person (rather than a business or a group), apart from some applications before the Waitangi Tribunal.

Note: If you’re under 16 you can still get family/civil Legal Aid, but you’ll usually need to have an adult (someone 20 or over) apply on your behalf. If you’re 16, 17, 18 or 19, Legal Aid Services can take your parents’ assets into account if you’re still living with them or being supported by them when deciding whether you qualify for Legal Aid and how much you should have to repay.

You can get Legal Aid for many types of private disputes and other non-criminal problems that will go, or could go, to court. It’s available from the first time you talk to a lawyer until your case is decided in court, including any appeals.

  • Family Court cases – Legal Aid is available for family and domestic disputes dealt with by the Family Court, such as –
    • matrimonial and relationship property problems – but not divorce (“dissolution”)
    • maintenance (financial support)
    • disputes to do with care arrangements for children
    • applying for a Protection Order or other order under the Family Violence Act 2018 (for information about repayments of Legal Aid in these cases, see “Repaying family/civil Legal Aid” below)
    • when Oranga Tamariki apply for a care or Protection Order about your child
    • adoption
    • paternity
    • Compulsory Treatment Orders under the mental-health laws.
Legal Aid now available for care of children disputes
  • Civil cases in the District or High Court – Legal Aid is available for suing someone or being sued in the District or High Court, or otherwise appearing in these courts over a civil dispute, such as –
    • recovering a debt
    • a breach of contract (for example, a hire-purchase agreement)
    • defamation
    • bankruptcy or insolvency.
  • Specialist Tribunals – Legal Aid is also available for disputes dealt with by a range of specialist Tribunals specialist courts, such as –
    • the Employment Relations Authority
    • the Human Rights Review Tribunal
    • the Legal Aid Tribunal
    • the Māori Land Court and the Waitangi Tribunal
    • the Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal
    • the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, if it’s a refugee case
    • the Social Security Appeal Authority
    • the Tenancy Tribunal
    • the Environment Court.
There must be a current or potential court case

    Legal Services Act 2011, ss 7, 11, 12

    You can’t get Legal Aid just for getting advice from a lawyer if you’re not involved in a current or potential court case. You have to be planning to take your case to court, even if you later manage to settle the dispute out of court. Legal Aid is available for mediation to solve disputes that would otherwise have to go to court.

    This means that, for example, you can’t get Legal Aid to get a lawyer to draw up a will for you.

Legal Services Act 2011, ss 7, 11, 12

You won’t be able to get Legal Aid for the following types of cases:

  • divorce cases (“dissolution” of marriages and civil unions)
  • advice from or work by a lawyer that doesn’t involve a problem that could go to court (for example, writing a will for you) – but mediation in a dispute is covered by Legal Aid because there’s a potential for it to go to court if mediation doesn’t work
  • the Disputes Tribunal (usually there are no lawyers at Disputes Tribunal hearings)
  • most immigration issues (except for refugee status issues)
  • court cases outside New Zealand
  • companies and groups – except in some special cases, like Waitangi Tribunal cases
  • getting Work and Income to review one of their decisions (but Legal Aid is available for appealing a review decision to the Social Security Appeal Authority)
  • problems with schools, universities and polytechs (for example, suspension meetings before a school Board of Trustees).

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Legal Aid and other legal help

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can give you free initial legal advice, help you apply for Legal Aid and find a Legal Aid lawyer, and may be able to provide ongoing legal help, depending on your situation.

Find a family lawyer


This New Zealand Law Society website will help you find a family lawyer in your local area.

Find a Legal Aid lawyer


This is an online database of Legal Aid lawyers.

Public Defence Service


This website provides information about the Public Defence Service. They can represent defendants in criminal cases where Legal Aid has been granted.

Ministry of Justice


Information about Legal Aid and other legal assistance schemes. Legal Aid forms are also available online.

Applying for Legal Aid


This page has the Legal Aid forms in PDR versions that you can download and email to Legal Aid.

Phone: 0800 253 425

Legal Aid Tribunal


Information about the Legal Aid Tribunal including what types of decisions that can be reviewed, how to apply and what type of information you need to provide.

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