What you don’t know can hurt you. This is especially true when it comes to matters relating to domestic and immigration law. The issues that arise in family and immigration law and the resulting outcomes tend to have long-term if not permanent effects. Moreover, once a judge or an agency has made a ruling, it becomes much more difficult and expensive to reverse or modify the decision.
You get what you pay for
As the old proverb suggests, if someone is offering you a free consultation, that’s usually what the advice is worth. I have worked with many clients who thought they were saving money by taking advantage of the free consultation only to discover later that the free advice would come at a much higher cost.
Consultation #1: Free advice almost resulted in couple having to pay filing fees TWICE!
Wife and husband attended free consultation session with an attorney regarding an adjustment of status based on wife’s marriage to US citizen husband. After the 30-minute consultation, the couple was advised that the attorney could file a “routine” adjustment of status package for the wife. Following the attorney’s advice, the couple paid the filing fees which included $355 for the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and $1010 for the I-485 Application to Adjust Status. After the applications were filed and the attorney collected his fees, the attorney failed to return the couple’s calls and inquiries regarding the status of their case.
When the couple scheduled a consultation with the firm, Van realized why the attorney made such a quick exit from the case. During the consultation, the attorney had either (1) failed to recognize that the wife was in removal proceedings or (2) he was unaware that when a person is in removal proceedings, the I-485 can’t be filed concurrently with the I-130 and processed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Thus, the $1010 they paid for the I-485 was money down the drain because USCIS did not have the authority to approve an I-485 for someone in removal proceedings. Consequently, the I-485 was denied.
Fortunately for this couple, the immigration judge exercised judicial discretion and granted Van’s Motion to Waive Filing Fees. This allowed the couple to properly re-file the I-485 with the court without having to pay the mandatory $1010 filing and biometrics fees to USCIS again!
Consultation #2: Noncitizen saved from long-term Child Support obligation.
Husband and wife, who were citizens of the Philippines, had been living and working in Maryland when the wife retained an attorney and filed for divorce requesting among other things sole legal and physical custody and child support of their only child.
Before he was referred to the firm, the husband had sought and received multiple free consultations. The general consensus was that given the child’s young age (the daughter was 3 years old), and taking into consideration his income as an electrical engineer and wife’s income as a researcher, wife would get primary physical custody and he would be obligated to pay child support estimated at approximately $700/month. Based on what he was hearing, the husband decided to save his money and just give the wife what she wanted.
Fortunately for the husband, a month before the merits hearing, while the husband was meeting with his immigration attorney to renew his H-1B status, he happened to mention his marital problems. The immigration attorney referred the husband to the firm for a second opinion. Based on the parties’ Filipino citizenship, Van informed the husband that although Maryland had jurisdiction to grant a divorce and make a determination regarding child support and custody, any such judgment would not be recognized in the Philippines. It has long been held by Filipino case law and the Filipino Civil Code that family matters involving Filipino citizens are the sole jurisdiction of the Filipino courts regardless of where the Filipino citizen resides. Moreover, given his financial circumstances and under Filipino law, the husband was advised that pursuing an annulment in the Philippines would most likely yield a more favorable result.
Once the firm was retained, a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for Absolute Divorce was filed. The Motion was granted and the firm had saved the husband from what could have amounted to approximately $126,000 USD in child support payments!
Consultation #3: Improper advice results in notice to appear in immigration court and possible deportation.
Husband came to the United States as a visitor in 1997. He overstays his visitor’s visa, and marries a United States citizen in 2000. After many years, his wife urges him to seek counsel to “legalize” his status in the United States. After a free 30-minute consultation, and for unknown reasons, the attorney advises the husband to file for asylum. Not surprisingly, the husband receives a notice form USCIS that his application for asylum was being referred to an immigration judge because he had failed to demonstrate why he should be exempt from the 1-year filing requirement.
By the time the husband and wife appeared for their consultation with Van, the damage had already been done. In conjunction with the referral notice, a Notice To Appear (NTA) was issued and the husband was charged with being deportable from the United States. Although the factors in this case will most likely merit a favorable exercise of discretion by the immigration judge, the couple faces a long and stressful road ahead because of the backlog in immigration court. It’s not easy to live day to day knowing that you could be separated from a loved one.
All of the stress and worry this couple is currently experiencing could have been avoided had the couple paid for and received competent advice from the start because the husband was eligible to adjust his status to that of a lawful resident based on his marriage to a US citizen.
The foregoing examples of cases that could have or did in fact go awry occurred because the clients were lured by the promise of a “free” consultation. In trying to save money at the initial stages of a legal proceeding, the parties incurred additional expenses and/or subjected themselves to the harsh consequences of the legal system. Thus, as with anything else, when it comes to legal advice, you really do get what you pay for!
For an informative discussion of your legal issues, schedule a consultation with Van today.