Legal Paraprofessionals in Divorce and Custody Cases

Legal paraprofessional is a term coming up more and more as both lawyers and people with legal issues turn to them for help.

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What is a legal paraprofessional?

The phrase legal paraprofessional refers to nonlawyers who work in law. It includes paralegals, law clerks and more.

In general, a legal paraprofessional helps lawyers or judges with tasks that don't require licensing or a Juris Doctor degree — like doing research and drawing up documents.

Licensed legal paraprofessional (LLP) means something slightly different. This new position has been created in a few U.S. states to provide more affordable legal help. Some states use slightly different names, e.g., licensed paralegal practitioner in Utah.

Since they are licensed, LLPs are allowed to take on more tasks than unlicensed legal paraprofessionals and can open their own practices.

Legal paraprofessional versus paralegal

Paralegals are a type of legal paraprofessional. Many have a paralegal degree or certificate. While they cannot give legal advice or represent clients, they may handle basic interactions with clients and do important behind-the-scenes work on cases.

Paralegals cannot work without supervision by a lawyer, whereas legal paraprofessionals who are licensed can.

Licensed legal paraprofessionals in divorce and custody cases

Only a few states, like Arizona and Utah, currently license legal paraprofessionals. In these places, LLPs can represent clients and provide legal advice in certain types of cases, including family law cases. Colorado plans to begin licensing LLPs too.

If you have a family law case that is fairly typical, an LLP can be a great way to get legal help without paying as much as you would for an attorney. For example, an LLP can help you write a divorce settlement agreement or represent you in custody mediation.

In general, LLPs must pass an exam. They also have to meet requirements for education and/or time working at a law firm.

LLPs have restrictions that lawyers don't. In Utah, they can represent people in mediation but not in court. In Arizona, they can do both but can't handle appeals or cases with certain complexities (e.g., division of commercial property in a divorce).

Bills regularly appear in other U.S. states to let licensed legal paraprofessionals practice law there. Minnesota is running a pilot program in which paraprofessionals must have supervision from an attorney to represent or advise family law clients.

The concept of licensing legal paraprofessionals arose to help middle-income people who can't afford lawyers but don't qualify for free representation. This is especially common in family law, an area in which huge numbers of litigants end up representing themselves. The hope is that LLPs help people who would otherwise have gone without legal advice — and that, with an LLP navigating their case with them, those people avoid legal mistakes.

The technology legal paraprofessionals use

Family law paraprofessionals use a number of tools to help them organize cases and prepare documents.

One of those tools is available to parents too: Custody X Change.

The Custody X Change online app helps parents and professionals:

Link accounts with your LLP to use Custody X Change together, or use it on your own.

Either way, take advantage of the technology the professionals use so you get what's best for your children.

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