Is The Internet A Substitute For Legal Counsel?

These days, even my nine year old son knows that one of the first places to look for information is the internet. There are so many search engines, websites, articles and online encyclopedias, in a few, very short minutes, we can usually find quick and easy answers to our questions. It has helped my son with his homework, and it can help you address many questions you have about your legal matter. However, as you navigate the World Wide Web for legal advice, take heed to the following:

You Can’t Always Believe What You Read.
I had a new client meet with me recently letting me know that he paid to download a book telling him how to reduce his child support. The book advised him that child support was based on net income, and that if his child support was based upon his gross income, he would be entitled to a reduction in child support. Unfortunately, both points were absolutely incorrect statements of the law in our State. After I reviewed the text for him, I found that the publication had no references and no author listed who was an attorney. So, basically, he paid for legal advice from an unknown person who failed to rely on the law. This won’t happen if you know the source of the articles, such as those published at DadsDivorce.com, but you don’t always know the source.
Check for Dates. Check for Cites. Then look them up.
Many legal professionals publish excellent articles on various websites. So many times I have done research on the internet regarding federal legal issues that somehow relate to a divorce or child support case (i.e., tax issues, military retirement, COBRA issues upon a divorce), and find loads of information I need. However, I never end my research there. I check the dates and the citations. As a legal professional, I know that while laws are frequently updated and change, articles on websites are not. So, if the articles give you the answers you need, check for legal authorities, such as statutes, regulations, and cases. Then go to an official website, such as a government supported website (i.e., www.irs.gov ) or legal search engine (i.e., www.Westlaw.com or www.lexis.com ) to make sure that the law referenced is still applicable. If you are not sure which website to go to or if you do not have access to one, then check with your attorney.
Make Sure the Advice You are Relying Upon Comes from a Licensed Attorney in your State.
The only people authorized to give legal advice are licensed attorneys. There’s a reason for that. Attorneys went through at least three years of law school, had to meet certain the ethical requirements, and then had to pass the bar exam in at least one the State in which they are authorized to practice. Law school teaches attorneys how to spot facts and issues in such a manner to determine which laws apply. It also how to research laws we don’t know and how to check when laws change.
Each State has their own set of statutes and cases regarding divorce, child support, custody, contempt, etc. How to calculate child support in one state can be completely different from another. In some states, the title to a piece of real estate determines ownership in a divorce, when in another it plays no role. In Georgia, a 14 year old can decide which parent will have custody of her, but not in Florida. In Texas, you may end up having a jury trial to determine your divorce, but you can’t in Missouri. So, when you read something on the internet about your legal issue, be sure the person giving the advice has a law degree and license to practice in your State. Each State Bar has a website you can check to be sure the attorney is a member in good standing.
It’s always best to meet with an individual to address your specific questions.
While the internet is a great place to start your journey, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with a real human being. Meeting with your own attorney gives you the opportunity to identify specific issues regarding your legal question that you may not have thought of. He or she can be creative with developing strategies—both legal and financial—and help you look at the big picture to obtain the results you really want.
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