This was originally published on Divorce And Your Money here.
Hiring an attorney can be cost-prohibitive for individuals who are in the process of seeking a divorce. However, many people still find it to be too intimidating to tackle the finalization of their divorce through the court system on their own—without legal assistance or guidance.
In lieu of placing a divorce attorney on retainer, some couples are now more interested in hiring a divorce paralegal to assist them. These professionals can help you fill out and file the correct forms, and they offer several different services at a reduced rate, compared to an attorney.
How do you know if hiring a divorce paralegal could be the right option for you? To get a thorough understanding of what they can offer, consider the answers to these three questions:
What is a divorce paralegal?
A divorce paralegal is typically an assistant to an attorney. Some of them are directly overseen by a divorce attorney within the same office. Others may work independently, based on their personal experience, education, or training.
Keep in mind that a paralegal does not have the right or ability to offer legal counsel throughout the process. That job function is exclusively performed by attorneys, so you may want to consider keeping an attorney on your team of professionals if you feel you will need legal advice. A paralegal also cannot represent you in court if your divorce is headed to trial.
The right divorce paralegal should be able to help you proofread and prepare any necessary forms. They are typically experienced and well-versed in knowing which forms are necessary, and where they need to be filed, based on local rules and regulations. If you feel you may struggle in this area while trying to handle your divorce on your own, a paralegal may be able to provide the correct level of support for you.
What should you look for in a divorce paralegal?
First and foremost, consider the obvious attributes of a potential divorce paralegal. You will be spending quite a bit of time with this professional, so make sure that you can work with their personality and attitude.
Evaluate their customer service skills, their responsiveness to your phone calls and emails, and their commitment to knowing the details surrounding your unique situation. You also do not want to underestimate the importance of cleanliness in their office space, as well as the friendliness of their reception staff and other coworkers.
From here, you should seek out professionals who maintain an official certification from a well-accredited program or association. Examples of highly recognized programs include those endorsed by the American Bar Association (ABA) or the National Association of Legal Assistants. They may also be licensed or registered within their field, depending on your state’s rules and regulations.
You will want to hire someone who specializes as a divorce paralegal or in other family law matters, instead of someone who has experience in a vast array of areas. This tactic ensures that their knowledge and training is more finely tuned than it might otherwise be. When selecting the proper divorce paralegal, referrals from family members and friends who have utilized their services for their own divorce can also be of value.
When should you use a divorce paralegal?
A divorce paralegal is just one option among many for finalizing your divorce. Therefore, how do you know if your situation will allow for this type of divorce? If you and your spouse are going to have a fairly simple divorce process, a paralegal may be able to provide a sufficient level of support for you—with just a little more assistance than you would have had with a do-it-yourself divorce. This type of divorce is best for individuals who have no kids, little to no property, and few financial obligations that need to be split between spouses.
Hiring a divorce paralegal is a good compromise; it is in between a do-it-yourself divorce and hiring an attorney. It can reduce some costs on the final bill, especially compared to hiring an attorney. Keep in mind that these savings are available because divorce paralegals provide a low level of assistance and no legal advice, in comparison to an attorney.
Choosing the Right Divorce Professional
Because each divorce is prompted by unique circumstances and individuals, it is impossible to prescribe a one-size-fits-all method for finalizing a divorce. Each professional and approach has some benefits, depending on the situation. A divorce paralegal is a great way to save money on a potentially expensive undertaking—especially for couples who can remain relatively amicable, and need only a simple divorce with few assets to divide between the two.
Ensure that you are hiring a properly credentialed professional within the field. Having the right professionals on your team is crucial to the overall success of your divorce, as well as your financial future. With the right research and guidance, a divorce paralegal could be a great addition to your divorce team.