In a legal dispute, costs can start to mount up even before a case has come to court. Costs such as the cost of obtaining legal advice, for example. Under the Beratungshilfegesetz (Legal Aid for Legal Advice Act), if you are not able to pay these costs yourself, you can apply to the Amtsgericht (district court) for legal aid.
If you are unable to finance the court case yourself, you may be able to get help with court costs from the court. Help with court costs is also available for appeal proceedings (appeals, complaints, reviews) and enforcement.
Since September 1, 2009, legal aid for all cases heard in the family courts is now known as Verfahrenskostenhilfe. (Previously it was known as Prozesskostenhilfe.) This is a change of name only, and is not accompanied by any other changes.
Legal aid is dependent on the following conditions being met::
The judge must determine that the action (or for the defendant, defence of the action) has a reasonable chance of success and that certain financial conditions are met. Depending on the recipient’s financial situation, legal aid may have to be repaid in monthly instalments or may be granted without any repayment obligation. Where legal aid is to be repaid, the amount of the instalments to be repaid depends on the recipient’s income, with the maximum number of instalments limited to 48, even if these instalments do not cover the actual costs incurred.
Where legal representation is mandatory, e.g.:
• in disputes before the family or district court
• where representation by legal counsel appears necessary
• where the other party has legal representation
legal aid can be used to pay for a lawyer of the applicant’s choice,
But beware! Legal aid does not remove all risk that you may have to pay legal costs. It covers court costs and your own lawyer’s fees only. If you lose the case, you will still have to pay the other party’s lawyer’s fees. In addition, the courts will retrospectively check whether your financial situation has improved and if so will require you to repay any legal aid provided.
If you wish to apply for legal aid, you must fill in a declaration outlining your personal and financial situation (available from the court or online) and submit proof of income and documentation showing your expenditure to the court hearing your case.
Further information about Verfahrenskostenhilfe / Prozesskostenhilfe is available at www.justiz.nrw.de and at the district court of Münster where you can also find a corresponding application form with explanations available.
You can reach the district court Münster by telephone under 02 51 / 494-0.