Family law is a unique area of practice, as it involves the study of law pertaining to the many types of relationships between individuals sharing a domestic connection. Paralegals in family law possess expertise in the statutes and case precedents associated with:
- Termination of a marriage or romantic relationship
- Division of property
- Spousal support/alimony
- Protection from abuse/restraining orders
- Parental rights and obligations
- Child support/support orders
- Child custody (legal and physical)
- Visitation rights
- Termination of parental rights
- Establishing or disproving paternity
- Grandparents’ rights
- State child protection and guardianship
Job Duties and Responsibilities of a Family Law Paralegal
Family law paralegals are involved in all aspects of family law, completing job duties as assigned by a family law attorney. The job duties and responsibilities of paralegals in family law include:
- Preparing and drafting motions, pleadings, judgments, statements, documents, and other correspondence (e.g., debt and asset lists, witness affidavits, child support worksheets, responsive pleadings, etc.)
- Performing legal research
- Maintaining attorney calendars and case files
- Scheduling appointments, court appearances, and mediation/deposition hearings
- Serving as a liaison between the client and attorney, conducting client interviews
- Preparing trial notebooks and providing assistance in trial settings
- Preparing and reviewing discovery packages, including disclosure statements, answers to interrogatories, and production requests
Maintaining effective communication with clients is a major responsibility of family law paralegals. In fact, much of their day is spent communicating with clients. Because family law often involves emotionally charged issues such as child custody, child support and division of assets, family law paralegals must have excellent interpersonal communication skills and must be capable of handling clients who may be anxious, upset, or distressed. Paralegals in family law must also communicate well with other professionals, such as bank personnel, healthcare providers, accountants, and financial officers.
Many of the cases in family law involve a financial component; therefore, family law paralegals must often investigate the income, expenses, assets, and lifestyles of one or both parties. The discovery process includes asking questions and collecting, organizing, and delivery documents necessary for the case.
How to Become a Family Law Paralegal
The first step to becoming a family law paralegal is completing a paralegal program approved by the American Bar Association (ABA).
The ABA approves paralegal programs in the U.S. at every level, from certificate programs to master’s degree programs. However, the standard educational route to becoming a paralegal involves the completion of an ABA-approved associate or bachelor’s degree program in paralegal studies.
The American Association for Paralegal Education (AAfPE) and the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) recommend that students complete a paralegal program of at least 60 credits—equivalent to an associate’s degree. Both paralegal associations also recognize the internship as an important component of the educational process, recommending a paralegal internship of at least six months.
Paralegal internships provide recent graduates with valuable experience in their chosen area of law.
Professional certification, although voluntary, is a valuable addition to any paralegal’s education and experience, as it signifies advanced competency and knowledge.
Advanced specialty certification in family law is beneficial for paralegals interested in pursuing a career in this area of law. The National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) offers advanced certification in the following areas of family law:
- Family Law – Adoption and Assisted Reproduction
- Family Law – Dissolution Case Management
- Family Law – Child Custody, Child Support, Visitation
- Family Law – Division of Property and Spousal Support
A number of institutions also offer family law courses and family law certificate programs for paralegals. Courses in these programs include study in:
- Marriage and premarital agreements
- Paternity, child abuse and neglect, and adoption
- Spousal support and division of marital property
- Child custody and child support
- Domestic violence and the law
- Annulment and legal separation