May 22, 2020

Be Up Front With Your Lawyer

I always tell my divorce clients that I need to know the good, the bad and the ugly about their situations.  They don’t need encouragement to tell me the good.  They do need encouragement to tell me all relevant facts including what they perceive to be the bad and the ugly. 

Frequently what they see as bad isn’t so bad, or may be presented in a way that helps their case.  For example, a parent may conceal ongoing therapy thinking it would damage their custody case.  Actually, participating in ongoing therapy can often be an effective response to charges of mental instability or being an unfit parent.  On the other hand, they may think nothing of introducing a child to a new partner.  If done too soon, a judge might see that as lack of judgment on the part of the parent or placing interest in the new partner above the interests of the child.

Where there has been an extra-marital affair, I can evaluate and help to manage the situation.  But only if I know before the situation becomes generally known, as it invariably will be.  With some exceptions an extra-marital affair has minimal impact on finances or custody.  But, disclosure (or discovery) of the affair can have a major negative impact on the other spouse’s attitude and willingness to be reasonable in negotiations.  That negativity increases the cost, emotional and financial, of the case and its duration.

At our first meeting, a client told me about her affair and her husband’s suspicions about it.  Knowing that, I was able to plan so that the disclosure to come up in a controlled and supportive setting.  The setting allowed both spouses to understand the minimal legal impact and to control their emotions to control emotional blocks to a resolution of the case.

In another case, I first learned of my client’s affair when his wife’s lawyer called a private investigator to testify about it in court.  I was left with damage control.  Had I known earlier, I could have advised the husband to limit the child’s interaction with the lover and keep the lover’s finances separate to limit impact on alimony the husband would have to pay.  I could have advised him to disclose the relationship to the Family Relations Officer and the child’s guardian ad litem who might have been able to focus the parties on the best interests of the child and to foster a co-parenting relationship rather than recriminations for the affair.

To get the best outcome, lawyer and client need to work as a team.  Your lawyer needs all the facts, the bad and ugly as well as the good to be able to evaluate and manage them.  Remember, lawyers can’t effectively do what we are trained (and paid to do) without knowing all the facts –from the start.

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