When it comes to the law, even a ‘simple’ transaction can become complicated due to the paperwork, court filing requirements, and strict limitation periods involved. With divorce specifically, there are so many potential issues involved, including property division, child and spousal support concerns, and parenting matters, that it can quickly overwhelm anyone looking to manage even an amicable situation on their own. For this reason, most people opt to work with a lawyer to make sure they’ve crossed all the t’s and dotted all of the i’s, ensure they have protected all of their rights with respect to seeing their children and paying or receiving support. In some cases, a person looking to divorce quickly and simply may choose to work with a paralegal instead, to manage all of the associated court filings.
However, unlike lawyers, paralegals are not regulated in Alberta. While lawyers must be licensed and abide by the rules set out by the Law Society of Alberta, paralegals can offer their services with little to no training. In most cases, paralegals exercise their duties with care, however, as one Alberta man recently learned, some do not. In those cases, there is little that can be done.
A Red Deer, Alberta man recently discovered the inconvenience and expense that can occur when the person you’ve hired to manage your divorce doesn’t come through. Aaron Penman separated from his spouse in 2017 and hired a paralegal he found online to prepare and file the divorce documentation with the court. He undertook steps to ensure the paralegal was legitimate, checking reviews and references, and meeting with the man in person. Everything seemed to be on the up and up.
Once the paralegal confirmed with Penman that the papers were filed and the divorce was “good to go”, Penman contacted the Court of Queen’s Bench to confirm. To his surprise, the Court informed him there was no record of his divorce at all. The paralegal then gave him a court file number, however, there was no record of that either. With the paralegal demanding the remainder of his payment, Penman said he wouldn’t pay without confirmation the divorce had actually gone through. At that point, the paralegal became difficult to connect with, and eventually blocked Penman’s number. Ultimately, Penman was out $1100 in fees and had no divorce to show for it.
In most provinces across Canada, paralegals are not licensed or regulated by a governing body. Ontario began to licence paralegals through the provincial law society in 2007 and remains the only province that does so. Other provinces have expressed interest in at least considering the notion, but so far no others have taken this step.
In Alberta, any person can hold themselves out as a paralegal. There is an Alberta Association of Professional Paralegals, which provides support (but not oversight) to members, however, membership is voluntary. Any person, regardless of their experience and education, can charge for paralegal services, which include:
Speaking in 2020 with The Lawyer’s Daily, the current president of the AAPP said that the lack of regulation has allowed a number of unscrupulous individuals to take advantage:
Unfortunately, in Alberta right now anybody can hang out a shingle and say they are a paralegal. It is causing a really ugly atmosphere in the province because there are some less-than-upstanding individuals doing this and on average I am receiving … [one] to [two] complaints a week from members of the public who are being defrauded.
In the same article, the Law Society of Albert confirmed that regulation of paralegals in the province was considered in 2012, but those involved decided against it at the time.
In a case like the one discussed above, the lack of a regulating body also means there is little recourse for someone who is defrauded by a person calling themselves a paralegal. In Ontario, for example, this behaviour could be reported to the Law Society of Ontario, prompting a formal process to investigate the matter.
In the case at hand, there is no such option. Penman has given up on recovering his funds and is now in the position of securing a divorce through different means.
Whether a divorce is low-conflict or highly contentious, simple or complex, Mincher Koeman aims to ensure that our clients are steered towards the most efficient and cost-effective resolution. Our lawyers are committed to treating your matter with empathy and skill, putting our considerable experience to work for you. Please contact our office to make an appointment to discuss your matter with one of our lawyers today by calling us at 403-910-3000 or by contacting us online.
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