When I moved to a new state and my ex showed up after six years with a lawyer and a petition for custody of our younger son, I was lost. I was also broke, with no money to hire an attorney.
Being unfamiliar with the laws and procedures of my new state, I started doing my homework. I also began to worry because a custody case was far more legally treacherous than anything I'd done on my own before. I knew I needed help making sure I was filing the appropriate paperwork with the appropriate court.
I found out, via my own personal experience, that a paralegal can be a valuable asset if you are not using an attorney. If you're going through a divorce, but don't want to break the bank, you might be asking yourself, can I use a paralegal instead of a divorce attorney? In most states, it is legal to use the services of a certified paralegal to help with the paperwork generated by the divorce process.
In some states independent paralegals have been given legal right to serve as “legal document preparers," so if you have a motion to file or a petition to draw up, you are within your legal rights to hire a paralegal.
Things Paralegals can do
Paralegals can legally prepare divorce forms for you, and they can tell you where those forms need to be filed. Paralegals can also tell you how to serve divorce forms to your spouse, and help you fill out state-specific forms for modifying child support or alimony.
Things Paralegals can't do
Paralegals can’t give you legal advice. They also can’t go to court and advocate for you the same way a divorce attorney will. If you are experiencing a fairly simple, uncontested divorce, you can save money by using a paralegal instead of a divorce attorney.
If your divorce is highly conflicted, with issues such as a custody battle or large assets to split, a paralegal is not something you want to consider. Their knowledge of court procedure and state divorce laws are limited, which makes them less valuable in a high conflict situation.
How to Find a Paralegal
As with a divorce attorney, you should not contract with a paralegal without first doing research into their background. Check with your Better Business Bureau for any complaints, and ask prospective paralegals about their experience and education. Making sure your paralegal is qualified is imperative when using one in place of a divorce attorney.
Sometimes Paralegals Know More
In my case, the paralegal I found looked over the case paperwork, and help me get everything done appropriately for a small fee. Here is the kicker: My paperwork was in good order, andy ex's attorney filed the petition for custody with the wrong court.
Thanks to the paralegal, we slowed down the process a bit, and when I did show up in court, all of my documents were properly filed and in order. Help can come from unexpected places. If you aren't able to hire an attorney, but need to use the court to protect your legal rights, a paralegal can guide you through the process and alleviate a lot of stress and anxiety.