Paralegals

paralegal

Question:

My friend is a paralegal, can he help me with my legal problem?

Answer:

No, a paralegal is not licensed to practice law. Instead, they are an assistant, specializing in legal skills including research, scheduling court dates and making sure papers are filed in the appropriate time and place. A paralegal may or may not be certified through a special program, and while quite knowledgeable about the law, is not allowed to give legal advice.

Small Claims Court

Small Claims

If you are owed money or recompense for an amount under $5,000.00, small claims court might be for you.

Small claims is an informal hearing, set before a judge, where you can outline why you believe you are owed money. The judge will hear both sides of the issue, look at the evidence and then make an immediate judgment for monies owed.

A judgment doesn’t ensure payment, however, it shows you have a legal right to payment but does not go after those funds. This may lead to taking collections actions next. Collection action can lead to bank account garnishments or liens on property, but are an added expense and action.

To begin a case, go to your local county courthouse and submit a Notice of Small Claims. You will need to sign the document while there, and pay the filing fee.

Costs are minimal, the filing fee is usually under $30, and you must serve court documents to the other party. While you cannot serve the papers yourself, you can pay a firm or a sheriff to do this, have a friend (not connected with the case) do it for you, or send the papers through certified mail with delivery confirmation. There are also transportation costs, and time taken off work. If a judgment is found in your favor, you can ask for reasonable costs to be added to the original debt.

You may seek an attorney’s advice at any point, but they cannot appear on your behalf at the hearing. Some common advice is to provide as much documentation as you can (emails, photos, documents, bank records), and to always keep calm while talking to the judge.

Check your local state court webpage for more information.

Fair and attentive judge

Question:

I just found out that my court date is in front of a commissioner, and not a judge. What is the difference?

Answer:

A judge is elected by voters for a 4-year term, or appointed by the courts in case of a vacancy between elections. A judge must be an attorney licensed in that state to practice law.

A commissioner is hired by the court to help with a judge’s case load, and in most cases is a licensed attorney, though not always. A commissioner has the same powers as a judge to hear a court case and pass legally binding judgments. It is quite common to find your family law hearing in front of a commissioner.

Divorce is Double No-Good

Historically, divorce has been a nasty business with equally nasty terminology. “Custody” and “alimony” conjure up images of bile-spewing, decades-long battles. Washington, like many states, has altered the terminology of many key divorce concepts in an effort to escape the loaded words of the bad old days, probably in the hope that more harmonious language will mean more harmonious litigation.

Is this Orwellian double-speak? Enlightened social engineering? Or just six of one, half a dozen of the other? You be the judge.

You may be surprised to learn that today we don’t even have Divorce in Washington. Instead we have “Dissolution,” suggesting that the process of unhappy spouses going their separate ways is as smooth and painless and sugar melting in a cup of tea. Gone too are the accusations of adultery and mental cruelty, once a prerequisite to even getting divorced, for we are a “No-fault State.”

So far as the law of Washington is concerned, an irretrievably broken marriage is like bad weather: we can figure out why it happened if we want to, but no one is to blame.

Scornful spouses are no longer Plaintiffs and Defendants (terms we still use in other civil litigation matters). Instead, the spouse who starts the litigation and pays the court filing fees is the “Petitioner” while the other is the “Respondent.” Makes it seem as easy as signing a petition at the mall for more hiking trails, or responding to a letter from an old college chum.

And here’s some good news for you high wage-earners: Alimony is a four-letter word of the past. Instead you will be heartened to hear that now you simply pay “Maintenance” – kind of like your home-owner’s dues. Feels better already, doesn’t it?

Gone too are ruinous Custody fights of decades past, because custody no longer even exists. Instead, divorced fathers and mothers “Co-parent” their children through a meticulously crafted “Parenting Plan” featuring all sorts of tranquil “Joint Decision-Making.” So now instead of Losing Custody, you simply become the “Non-residential Parent.” And who, really, could have a problem with that?

But traditionalists take heart, for some things never change: Child Support, even in the brave new millennium, is still just “Child Support.”