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Is Limited Assistance Representation Right for You?

Posted by Stephen McDonough | Aug 18, 2016 | 0 Comments

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Just call, and we’ll be there. Like James Taylor.

When it comes to legal help, not everyone wants the same amount of assistance. You may have the time and talent to do a lot of the work yourself, which of course could save some money in the short-term. It may also provide you with a new perspective on your case and better insight into the justice system, if you are interested in that sort of thing.

Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) in divorce and family law cases allows clients the opportunity to acquire help in Massachusetts on their own terms, and we can help you do it. These “unbundled legal services” can be used in a variety of scenarios, and we'll give you a few to consider in an effort for you to decide if LAR might be right for you.

Remember that limited assistance representation has—just as the name implies—limitations.  And as Clint Eastwood said, “a man's got to know his limitations.” Actually, both genders should consider this point, although it does seem obvious. LAR is not the same as traditional, full legal representation because your lawyer is only performing certain tasks, while you maintain responsibility for others aspects of your case.

Read on to learn about the different scenarios where limited assistance representation can be used and consider if it could be beneficial for your legal situation.

Massachusetts Uncontested Divorce

Let's say you were in a marriage for several years, and you and your spouse agree to go your separate ways and get divorced.  If you are both in agreement with all of the details, including topics such as real estate, assets, debt, child support, etc., then you may be able to streamline the divorce process.

Allow me to point out a few important things that I have experienced when it comes to uncontested divorces.  First, it is not uncommon that some wishful thinking is involved when people classify their  divorce as uncontested.  It is common that details will come up as part of the process that you and your spouse did not discuss or possibly not even know about, and thus you may not agree upon these items. This is not the end of the world, just do not be surprised if it happens.  I think a better term is MUDmostly uncontested divorce.

Another important point: In Massachusetts a lawyer may not represent both parties in a divorce.  This is not a grey area.  It is a clear violation on the Rules of Professional Conduct, and if a lawyer says he or she can represent both sides, you should really look elsewhere. One person can be represented, and the other party can be unrepresented, but a lawyer cannot represent both sides; and no—you cannot waive this rule.

But, if you have a few things to work out with your spouse, no need to panic and assume you are facing an expensive and drawn out process.  You can both agree to work with one of our skilled divorce mediators to finalize the terms of your divorce agreement.  This is an efficient option, and when completed the paperwork for the court and your agreement are drafted by us.  Although a lawyer may not represent both sides, in the mediation context if the mediator is also a lawyer licensed in Massachusetts, then the lawyer is allowed to draft all of the paperwork for the clients.

Most people are surprised to learn that this divorce stuff is more involved than oftentimes anticipated.  Last week, a couple contacted me after the court rejected their two page divorce agreement.  Even a super simple divorce agreement, drafted properly, will be much longer than two pages.  If it was that easy to do all of this stuff by yourself, then I suppose people wouldn't go to law school!

Click here to read more about our uncontested divorce flat-fee package.

Monthly Attorney Counseling

If you want to represent yourself in a case, such as a custody disagreement or a contested divorce, monthly attorney counseling can guide you through the process.

So, let's say you want to start seeing your child every weekend instead of every other weekend, but you don't want to spend thousands and hire a lawyer in the traditional sense to help you modify your parenting schedule and/or custody. It's possible to represent yourself successfully when it comes to some types of family law disputes.  Is it the very best option?  Probably not, but having some guidance is much better than going it all alone. The reason why more people do not do this is because it takes a good deal of time and effort to sort out the legal system, but we're here for those who either want to try it, or do not have the funds available to hire a lawyer to handle the entire case.

We can give you advice about certain types of procedures as well as give tips on the best strategies when it comes to approaching your hearing. As long as your case is based in the state of Massachusetts, you'll receive confidential counseling with an attorney for up to two hours for every thirty days with an option to renew.  If you need more help then you can select a higher level of services at any time.

Temporary Orders

Temporary orders are common in divorce and post-divorce cases.  They are helpful to sometimes maintain the status quo while the works through the system. Examples of items included in temporary orders could be specifying which spouse will live in the residence, or that both will continue to reside there, who pays what bills, and an initial parenting plan. Oftentimes, and initial amount of child support or alimony is determined.

While they are, as their name suggests, only temporary, these orders will often set the tone and terms of the divorce (not to mention the more immediate needs between when the orders are drawn and when the divorce is finalized). It's incredibly important to take them seriously. In this limited assistance representation service, you'll work with a Next Phase Legal attorney who will prepare for and accompany you to the temporary order hearing. By taking advantage of this service, you're less likely to face surprises during the rest of the divorce.

Pre-Trial Conference

There can be a multitude of hearings and meetings when it comes to working through the divorce process in Massachusetts, but the pre-trial conference is arguably one of the most important. So if you have only one or two points of contention with your spouse, say a disagreement about who should get the house, then this pre-trial conference could be the last stop in working out a solution.

It is common that when cases are prepared properly, that agreements come together following the mandatory settlement meeting that is almost always ordered before the pre-trial conference. Thus it is not at all uncommon that cases conclude on this date and a couple is divorced. It is also usually a requirement that a detailed pre-trial memorandum is drafted and submitted to the court and the opposing party. With this limited assistance representation service, you'll get a pre-trial memorandum that has been carefully constructed by an attorney before the hearing to address the key points from your case.  If you want the lawyer to attend the pre-trial conference, that is certainly an option as well.

Document Review

Paperwork is not only a nuisance for some people, it can be a roadblock to moving forward into your next chapter, or phase (Get it? Next PHASE Legal.  And you thought it was just some random name I came up with). If you don't fill out forms correctly, it can cause a delay or may even potentially affect whether or not you win or lose your case.  For a divorce, you'll have to give complicated financial statements, fill out affidavits, petitions, and requests, as well as assemble information about child support and custody. It can be overwhelming if you are not experienced with the seemingly endless forms.

The document review process has a lawyer look over one or more documents so that you know you're submitting everything according to procedures. We give you suggestions, so you can make the right changes. Please note the fees for this service will vary based on the length and breadth of the forms.

Interested in Limited Assistance Representation?

Learn more about our limited assistance representation services and feel free contact us if this service would be good fit for you.

About the Author

Stephen McDonough

Stephen works closely with clients facing divorce or other family conflict. He is a certified mediator through the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation, a designation that only about 11% of mediators have obtained. In addition to providing mediation services, Stephen regularly appears in...

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