Foreign migrants will have to live in Britain for a year before they can claim civil legal aid as part of reforms to save £300m a year.
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, said some migrants were using the system to settle custody cases despite being in the country for “extraordinarily short periods of time”.
He said the measures would be “difficult but sensible” and insisted the move was “not about denying people access to justice”.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph he said: “There are a number of areas where somebody who comes to this country even on a tourist visa can access civil legal aid. We are going to change that.