I can’t tell you how often we see litigants in Florida divorce court either frustrated with the process or disappointed in a bad result obtained on account of wrong advice or bad information they got from a “divorce paralegal”. They were told that their Florida divorce was going to be as simple as 1 – 2 – 3. Turns out not to be the case.
The frustration often starts at the clerk’s office. We see this all the time. The clerk requires certain papers to be filed, including a civil cover sheet, related cases statement, petition for dissolution of marriage and other documents that are required not by statute or Florida Supreme Court rule, but by local administrative rule or administrative order. The local rules and orders are usually foreign to the “divorce paralegal” and the clerk can reject the case for filing as a result of their not being complied with.
If the case does get filed, the next point of frustration is with scheduling hearings. The litigant files the case and waits and waits and waits for court action. Most courts take no action on their own; rather, the litigant must be proactive in filing appropriate papers, setting hearings and providing notice to the court and opposing side. “Why hasn’t the court granted my divorce?” is a question we hear often from litigants being represented by “divorce paralegals”.
Okay, so the petitioner does figure out that he needs to set the final hearing, now what? How does that happen? What does the notice of hearing require? The Florida judicial rules now require every notice for a court hearing to have an ADA statement in 14 point bold font. What’s that? The “divorce paralegal” has no idea in all likelihood.
If the petitioner finally figures out how to get in front of his divorce judge, he has to be prepared to present his case, have the correct paperwork to give to the judge, to know what to ask or testify, to establish the court’s jurisdiction and to present evidence on the important divorce issues. Failing that, the court can deny the requested relief or even dismiss the case. Dismissal of a divorce case does not mean you can’t get divorced, but it will mean having to refile and to pay another court filing fee. Who wants to do that?
There are many reasons you should stay far away from “divorce paralegals” in handling your Florida divorce, even one that is uncontested. In Florida it is a felony for someone to practice law without a license and in all likliehood the “divorce paralegal” probably isn’t even allowed to call himself a paralegal. A paralegal, by definition and Supreme Court rule must work for or under the supervision of a Florida lawyer.
The dictionary defines a paralegal as follows:
1. an attorney’s assistant, not admitted to the practice of law but trained to perform certain legal tasks.
The Florida Supreme Court defines a paralegal as someone working for or under the direction or supervision of a lawyer or law firm. The following rule applies:
RULE 4-5.3 RESPONSIBILITIES REGARDING NONLAWYER ASSISTANTS
(a) Use of Titles by Nonlawyer Assistants. A person who uses the title of paralegal, legal assistant, or other similar term when offering or providing services to the public must work for or under the direction or supervision of a lawyer or law firm.
So, the divorce paralegal you have found locally or on the internet, if he is not working for or under the direction or supervision of a lawyer or law firm, is not a paralegal at all and it would be wrong for him to hold himself out as such. Florida has a law prohibiting any person from practicing law without a license. To do so can be punished by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $5000 fine.
Florida statute, section 454.23 provides as follows:
Penalties.—Any person not licensed or otherwise authorized to practice law in this state who practices law in this state or holds himself or herself out to the public as qualified to practice law in this state, or who willfully pretends to be, or willfully takes or uses any name, title, addition, or description implying that he or she is qualified, or recognized by law as qualified, to practice law in this state, commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
The “divorce paralegal” who is not working for or under the supervision of a lawyer must not, in conjunction with his business, engage in advising clients as to the various remedies available to them, or otherwise assist them in preparing divorce forms necessary for a dissolution proceeding. He may not make inquiries nor answer questions from his “clients” as to the particular forms which might be necessary, how best to fill out such forms, where to properly file such forms, and how to present necessary evidence at the court hearings.
A document company may legally sell Supreme Court forms as a secretarial service, they must not engage in personal legal assistance in conjunction with their business activities, including the correction of errors and omissions.