Unsurprisingly, I have a vested interest in the topic of this post. I’m an attorney. I earn my living in family law. I offer flat rate plans for uncontested divorces. There are a number of experienced family law attorneys in Spokane to choose from. Some of those attorneys also offer flat rate plans for uncontested divorce.
Don’t get me wrong – I value and appreciate paralegals. I was one myself (for 20+ years). I worked under the direct supervision of an attorney. Many times I observed said attorney being quite dense. In spite of these observations, I always believed the intensity of earning a law degree and passing a bar exam Meant Something. And it does, indeed Mean Something. I am an attorney and I am incredibly dense at times. I like to think my J.D. adds flair to my density.
Previously, as a paralegal with a firm grasp on civil court rules and the domestic relations statute, I could not give legal advice. No matter how brilliant the paralegal, the paralegal is not competent to give legal advice. Law school takes apart the student’s brain and puts it back together again. The bar exam tries to demolish the newly reassembled and fragile brain. Those who survive this macabre process are licensed to give legal advice in the licensing state. (As an aside, most paralegals have much more common sense than lawyers.)
There are many advertisements out there for “licensed paralegals” and “certified paralegals” who will prepare divorce documents very inexpensively. There are also online document preparation services out there which charge a small fee to prepare divorce documents. Lincoln County allows divorcing parties to prepare their documents and handle everything by mail.
However, the paralegals and form preparation websites, cannot give legal advice. The following is just a small list of common questions that a paralegal or website cannot answer (because the answer is legal advice):
- We lived together for a couple of years before we got married, does it matter?
- We own property in Idaho. Can Washington distribute that property?
- What if I get a job in another state – can my parenting plan be modified?
- My spouse is in the military. Am I entitled to a portion of his/her military retirement?
- I pay child support to my first spouse. How does that affect my child support in this marriage?
- My spouse is going to keep the house and make the house payment. What happens if he/she does not make the payments?
- I have a pending insurance claim for an auto accident last year. Is this my separate property?
- How will we pay for our kid’s college expenses after the divorce?
- How do we divide our 401(k) plans?
- Should I ask for spousal maintenance?
- If I agree to this settlement, what am I giving up that I am legally entitled to?
- If I agree to this settlement, am I getting more than I am legally entitled to?
- My company may be laying off employees in the next six months. What effect will that have on my child support payment?
The above list is just a smattering of questions that come up routinely.
Also, aside from not being able to have your questions answered by a paralegal or website, each case is unique. Having mandatory divorce forms in Washington leads many to erroneously believe that all cases can be handled in cookie-cutter fashion. This is far from the truth! The mandatory forms are geared to handle the jurisdictional and statutory requirements. However, each case has issues that the mandatory forms simply cannot address. Many, many times I have been hired to “fix” problems in a decree that the parties had no way of predicting at the time they prepared their documents. For instance, some agencies and entities require certain “magic words” in the decree to divide up retirement accounts. Suppose five years down the road a former spouse tries to access the funds per the decree and finds out that the decree is not sufficient. What then? Will the Court allow the decree to be clarified to meet the standards of the retirement administrator? What if your former spouse is collecting maintenance, but starts cohabiting with someone else (but doesn’t get married). Is there a way to handle that possibility in the decree?
Sometimes a client walks into my office intending to hire me to prepare an uncontested divorce. Often, if the case is truly uncontested (i.e. the spouses are in agreement on each and every issue), everything goes smoothly and 90 days later final paperwork is entered. Sometimes, the paperwork is presented to the other spouse and lo and behold, the other spouse really did not understand the agreement. The other spouse contests some of the terms. What happens then? Well, my client has the option to keep me on the case and we convert the flat fee agreement into an hourly rate agreement. Is it more expensive?Yes. Paying me by the hour is more expensive than a flat fee agreement.
The above scenarios are offered as food for thought: Is it really worth saving money by throwing your documents together online or hiring a non-lawyer?
This web site and these articles are not legal advice and are not intended as legal advice. This web site and these articles are intended to provide only general, non-specific legal information. This web site and these articles are not intended to cover all the issues related to the topic discussed. The specific facts that apply to your matter may make the outcome different than would be anticipated by you. This web site and these articles do not create any attorney client relationship between you and Tamara C. Murray. This web site and the articles contained on this web site are not solicitations.