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A Caution Regarding Online Family Law Resources

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Written by Colin A. Steffler

This blog is one of many resources available online that attempts to provide some basic information about family law. Many other family law firms have similar blogs where they try to answer simple, frequently-asked questions relating to separation and divorce, or to the legal system more generally. There are also many informational websites produced by individuals and groups involved in the family law system, such as mediators, arbitrators, government agencies, and interest groups (such as father’s rights groups). In addition to these sites, there are online calculators that allow you to estimate how much you may have to pay (or how much you may be entitled to receive) for child and spousal support; there are detailed websites explaining what steps you have to complete for a particular part of the court process; and there is even a website from which you can download all of the forms you may need to commence, or participate in, court proceedings. These online resources can be very helpful, but can also be dangerous if you are not careful in deciding which resources to rely on.

Checking the Source

When it comes to online resources, not all websites are equal. Some websites and online tools, are produced by reliable sources, such as the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Law Society of Ontario, Legal Aid Ontario, and reputable law firms. Others come from less reliable sources and are full of inaccuracies, often based on subjective opinion rather than objective fact. Unfortunately, this distinction is not always clear and there are some sites that appear authoritative and reliable, but which are, in fact, full of misinformation and bad advice. For this reason, it is important to look carefully at who or what the source of the information you are relying on is. Consider carefully whether the individual or group you are listening to is qualified to provide the information being given, and whether they are providing facts or opinions.

Legal Information ≠ Legal Advice

Legal information is, in essence, information about how the law operates in general and how it applies to most cases. Any application of that general information to a particular case constitutes legal advice, which only lawyers are authorized to provide. Blogs like this one are intended to provide only legal information, not legal advice. In other words, our aim is simply to outline some basic principles that apply across a broad range of cases, not to tell any particular person how to handle their specific situation. Every case is, to some extent unique, and there are often nuances that slightly alter how the law applies in a particular situation. If you rely entirely on the legal information available online, without seeking legal advice, you risk missing these nuances and misunderstanding how the law applies to you. Online resources are often a useful starting point, but they are not meant as a substitute for legal advice. Even if you feel confident that you can deal with your family law matter on your own, it is a good idea to consult a lawyer, if only to make sure there is nothing you are forgetting or overlooking.

Complaints and Concerns about Lawyers

It is no secret that lawyers get a bad rap, and are often the butt of jokes or the target of complaints and criticism. In some instances, it is deservedly so. There are, undeniably, some lawyers who act unprofessionally by overcharging clients, billing for work not done, bullying or taking advantage of unrepresented parties, or even engaging in criminal behaviour. These few do not, however, reflect the vast majority of lawyers, who take their professional obligations and standards of conduct seriously. Unfortunately, even with the best lawyers, family law matters often do not turn out as people wish, and some of those who have gone through a particularly nasty divorce or had a bad experience with a certain lawyer, turn to blaming the legal profession or legal system in general. As a result, there are websites that advise against any interaction with lawyers, and find a free template instead of getting a lawyer’s advice and assistance with preparing a separation agreement. If you follow such advice, you may find later, to your detriment, that it was not as good a suggestion as it seemed. Obtaining legal advice, even if only through a consultation with a lawyer, is a simple way to ensure that you are aware of your legal rights and obligations and understand your options for resolving your family law matter.

 

If you are concerned about the cost of hiring a lawyer, there are a number of ways you can reduce your legal fees while still obtaining the legal advice you need to protect yourself and your interests. Some of these methods include working out a Kitchen-Table Agreement directly with your spouse or attending mediation prior to retaining a lawyer, or hiring a lawyer to provide unbundled services under a limited scope retainer.

 

If you have had a bad experience with a lawyer, swearing off legal advice altogether is unlikely to make the situation any better. Finding the right lawyer to suit your personality and needs can be difficult and may take some time, but is worth the effort to make sure you are getting the best possible result.

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