9:24 A.M. Legal Aid hopes to discourage feuding couples from acting as own lawyers …

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Legal Aid Ontario is embarking on a significant expansion of legal services in family law that could chip away at the swelling masses of self-represented litigants and steer couples away from lengthy court battles. A pair of programs , which will be announced Thursday , will offer financially eligible couples free access to a family lawyer to negotiate separation agreements and provide legal advice for mediation. It is assistance that is desperately needed , says Jana Saracevic , who was forced to represent herself in divorce proceedings after she ran out of money for lawyers. A rehabilitation therapist and mother of two , Saracevic , 50 , did not qualify for legal aid. She said she was quickly overwhelmed by the intricacies of a system ‘ designed by lawyers , for lawyers… ‘

‘ It consumes you ‘ … she said … ‘ You lose friends because no one wants to hear you anymore ‘ …

Thomas Kelsey , director of family law services for Legal Aid Ontario in the GTA , said the two programs represent the organization’s most notable expansion of free legal services for family law cases in over a decade… ‘ It’s a big step ‘ Kelsey said. ‘ It’s a whole different avenue that people can now access to resolve their family law problems ‘ …

To qualify for the new programs , an individual with no dependants can now have a gross income of up to $18,000 a year the threshold varies by household size. If one partner is financially eligible , the other also qualifies , as long as he or she earns no more than $50,000 a year. The first program offers, among other services, up to 10 hours with a family lawyer to obtain and review disclosures , engage in settlement discussions and finalize a separation agreement…

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