Getting legal help
If you are a teen or young adult, Legal Aid Ontario can help you, whether you are in trouble with the law, or experiencing family problems and need legal help.
If you are 17 years of age and younger, Legal Aid Ontario can help you, if you are in trouble with the law.
Legal advice services for youth
You have a right to receive free legal advice from a lawyer.
If you are in custody, you can ask the police to call duty counsel (a legal aid lawyer) for you. The police normally tell duty counsel what you are being charged with.
You can then speak to duty counsel over the phone, privately. You should mention any medical issues at this time to duty counsel. The information you get in this conversation can help you until you can get your own lawyer.
If you were arrested and then released from custody, you can get advice over the phone or in person:
- Call Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-668-8258 and explain your situation.
- Call 1-855-953-1427 to get to an automated service that will provide general information on how the criminal justice system works. After you listen to the message, there is an option to leave a message for a legal aid lawyer to call you back. Legal Aid Ontario offers this service for free and it is available to youth 24/7.
- Talk to duty counsel (a legal aid lawyer) in the courthouse near the courtroom where you must appear.
Going to court
Before your first day of court
- You can call Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-668-8258 to apply for a certificate. Tell the telephone agent right at the beginning that you are a person under 17 years of age or younger and are in trouble with the law.
- Get information online at Legal Aid Ontario's LawFacts, Community Legal Education Ontario's youth criminal law section or the Justice for Children and Youth (a legal aid clinic focused on helping youth) website.
On your first day in court
Your first court appearance is very important. When you get to the courthouse, here is what you should do:
Duty counsel are legal aid lawyers who can provide you with free legal services in court. They can help you on your first day of court if you do not have your own lawyer.
Apply for a legal aid certificate at the legal aid office.
A legal aid certificate is a voucher that pays for your own lawyer to represent you in court. You must meet financial and legal criteria to get a legal aid certificate. The legal aid worker/duty counsel at the court can help you with your application.
Sometimes your parents will have to be contacted. They might have to give Legal Aid Ontario information about how much money they have.
Tell the legal aid lawyer if you think your parents will not help you. He or she will explain your next steps.
If you are accepted for the certificate: The legal aid worker/lawyer will suggest how to find your own lawyer
If you are refused for the certificate: You will need to get a special order from the judge that gives you your own private lawyer. This is called a Section 25 order.
Duty counsel can help you. Ask him or her to help you get a refusal letter from Legal Aid Ontario. Once you get this letter, duty counsel can help you in court.
If a legal aid lawyer duty counsel cannot help you with your legal issues, you may be able to get more information; for links to other places that might be able to help you, go to the other resources section of this site.
Family law is about relationships and rights within families, such as divorce and separation, child custody and access, and support payment matters. It includes services for children, teens and young adults.
If you are a young person who is entering the family court system for the first time, Legal Aid Ontario (LAO)’s free, online Family Law Information Program gives you basic information on the family court process, legal definitions and more.
You may also qualify for one or more of the following services:
- Help from a family lawyer in court
- A voucher that can get you free coverage for representation by a private lawyer
- Free information over the telephone from a lawyer to help you deal with your legal problem. The lawyer can, for instance, tell you what to do between court visits, help you with court papers, and understand next steps.
- Mediation or a settlement conference: These are dispute resolution options that take place outside of court to help you and your ex-partner work toward a resolution of your family law issues.
- Free legal assistance and advice from a family law information centre, available in many Ontario courthouses that deal with family matters.
- Help with documents and representation by a lawyer at a family law service centre, available in certain regions of the province.
- Referral to a lawyer and a range of legal services at a family law office.
How duty counsel (family lawyers who work for LAO in courts) can help you
If you are a young person with a family matter and don’t have a lawyer, a legal aid family duty counsel (a family lawyer who works for LAO) may be able to help you in court as follows:
If it is a Child and Services Family Act (child welfare) matter, family duty counsel may speak with the Children’s Aid Society about arranging a referral to the Office of the Children’s Lawyer, which is required to assist minor parents in CFSA matters.
Before the Office of the Children’s Lawyer has been appointed, family duty counsel can help negotiate terms of access and other temporary orders, as appropriate, to ensure that you maintain your parent-child bond with your child, particularly at the beginning of a proceeding.
Vouchers for legal services for teens and young adults
Legal Aid Ontario issues certificates, which are like vouchers for legal services. If you are financially eligible for a certificate and if your matter qualifies, you can take a legal aid certificate to a lawyer at a family law office or family law service centre, or a private lawyer who accepts legal aid clients, and use it to “pay” for that lawyer’s services for a certain number of hours. The lawyer will use that time to represent you, including in court, or help you deal with other legal matters.
As part of LAO’s June 2015 legal and financial eligibility expansion initiatives, LAO committed to issue certificates where:
- the case is a non-Child and Family Services Act (child welfare) matter and involves parents who are under 18 years of age
- the client is a teen or young adult (under 22 years of age) and needs legal advice and support about starting an access or child support claim against his or her parent(s).
Teens and young adults who contact LAO seeking a certificate may be referred to duty counsel, advice counsel, or to the Client and Lawyer Service Centre (a telephone-based service similar to the services offered by advice counsel), for initial assistance and summary legal advice from a family lawyer. This assistance will include referral to the certificate program, where appropriate and if you are eligible.
How to ask us for help
- Be clear that you or the person that you are assisting is a teen or young adult. This information can help us understand that help is needed by someone with certain vulnerabilities who may have a harder time accessing justice or engaging with the court process.
- Make sure to raise any teen or young adult experiences of domestic violence or abuse in the home.
- When calling our toll-free line, have financial information ready. Bring it along at the first meeting with duty counsel or advice counsel.
- Speak to advice counsel for summary legal advice and to determine if it is possible to receive a duty counsel referral to the certificate program.
- Keep in mind that the hours and availability of advice and duty counsel services vary depending on the jurisdiction and whether the court is an Ontario Court of Justice, Unified Family Court, or Superior Court of Justice. In the GTA, advice and duty counsel services are available Monday to Friday, typically from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. In smaller jurisdictions, call the court or the duty counsel office before attending to find out the days and hours of service.
If you have a court date, get valuable information on Courtprep.