“The same thing happened to my son, and he got off with a warning.” “When my neighbor’s brother’s ex-girlfriend’s cousin got divorced, he got off without paying anything.” “If you get divorced, she’ll get the kids.”
There is no doubt that the law can be difficult to understand, and often when people run up against the law or simply need legal advice, they turn to their close friends, associates, and coworkers. These individuals, though keen to share their story, are not qualified to provide legal counsel and may not be the best source of legal information. Although they may have gone through a similar situation, their case will invariably be distinct from yours. And the law, as it is applied to your case, may result in quite a different outcome.
Another category of individuals inclined to offer legal advice include government employees. The social security administration, for example, will tell you what custody and parenting time should look like, but the bottom line is that there are a hundred variations and every case is unique. While police officers, court administrators, and other government workers may seem competent to offer legal advice, they are not qualified legal professionals and do not represent your interests. As such, it would not be wise to heed the advice they offer.
It would be best to avoid turning to the following individuals in cases in which what you really need is a qualified attorney:
- Social workers
- Court administration
- Police officers
- Social security clerks
- Bar stool "attorneys"
- Your friend who just got a divorce
- Probation officers
- Any government employee
- Attorneys who practice mainly in other areas of law
Dangers of seeking legal advice from others
We hear account after account of people turning to others for legal advice, and it can often be quite detrimental. In one particular instance, a mother was seeking medical assistance for a child born out of wedlock. The father had a lengthy criminal record. He had never had any contact with the child, and the mother was eager to prevent him from doing so. A social worker warned the mother that if she proceeded with her plea for medical assistance, the courts would enable the father to exercise his parental rights and allow him parenting time with the child. Social workers are not qualified to give legal advice, and, in this case, the advice given to the mother was not, in fact, true.
In another case, a husband was in an abusive relationship. There was a child born to the marriage, and the father was told that if he left the home it would be considered abandonment and he would lose custody of the child. What he thought was good advice was actually a myth. According to the law, “abandonment” has a specific legal meaning, and you cannot “abandon” your children by moving out of the house, particularly pursuant to a divorce. He would have actually had to be physically absent and not have seen the child for one year for the child protection statute to become applicable. Unfortunately, because of the bad advice he received, he stayed in the abusive relationship.
In other less dramatic cases, those going through a divorce often seek counsel from friends and coworkers. While these individuals may be able to provide the emotional support needed, they are not a good source of legal advice. A divorcing spouse will often hear how the next door neighbor got twice the settlement or how the guy at work got off without paying spousal support. In the end, each case is distinct, and the facts in one are not comparable to those in another, so you should expect the outcome to be different. Your situation is unique, and hoping for results similar to your friend’s case or hearing the outcome of your coworker’s will only further your own frustration.
The best advice is to seek the assistance of a competent attorney who practices specifically in the area of law you are dealing with, and disregard whatever legal counsel others may feel inclined to give you. Money is of course a consideration, but you often get what you pay for, and in the end, hiring a qualified attorney will generally save you a great deal of time, money, and anxiety. Expensive mistakes can be made by not seeking an experienced family law lawyer, and remedying the damage that has been done is usually much more costly than consulting with a competent attorney from the beginning.
Contact Mundahl Law to schedule your consultation. We can answer any questions you have and guide you along the right path. A brief visit to our office will likely serve to allay many of your fears and clarify any misgivings you may have.