“Should I tell my lawyer everything? There are certain things I’d like to keep to myself.”
It’s really difficult at times for a client to be completely honest with his or her divorce lawyer. The issues that arise in the typical case are personal in nature and may be embarrassing to talk about. You can be assured that as a client, your communications with your lawyer are privileged and not discoverable in litigation. Yet you may be ashamed to share a specific fact with your attorney. For instance, if your case involves child custody, you may have slapped your child in anger or treated your child in another way you consider “bad”. Since it only happened a couple of times, and your spouse hasn’t mentioned it yet in any court documents, you decide not to tell your lawyer.
The failure to disclose a relevant fact can be damaging and even devastating to your case. So it’s extremely important that you fully disclose all facts that you think may be relevant to your situation. If you’re unsure whether it’s important or not, tell your lawyer. The two of you can then discuss whether the information should be shared and, if so, how you should present it in the context of your case.
While telling your lawyer “everything” is not necessary or even desirable, truthfully discussing all facts relevant to the issues in your case is absolutely essential. At times, you may have difficulty in limiting your communication with your lawyer to those facts that are relevant. As a lay person who is immersed in an all-consuming, life-changing event such as a divorce or custody battle, you may not be equipped to decide what’s important to tell your lawyer and what’s not. Sometimes you may feel compelled to tell everything, for fear that if you don’t, you’ll leave out something important.
A more effective approach is to ask your lawyer for guidance. Your lawyer should define the legal process, the broad issues involved, and help you determine the specific issues in your case. With the specific issues in mind, your attorney can then inform you regarding the legal principles that govern your situation and what information you need to present in your case.
Once you’re armed with this, it should be easier for you to determine what is and what isn’t important to tell your lawyer. You may want to provide a written statement that presents the important facts. One good way to organize your information is chronological — that is, to put together a timeline of events and the dates they occurred. Another good organizing strategy, if you’re dealing with property issues, is to group together all the important facts regarding each asset or liability, and proceed until you’ve presented each item on your property list in this fashion.
Typically, it takes time and several meetings for you to relay all relevant facts to your attorney. Your legal position and chances of attaining certain goals may change as new facts unfold. Most lawyers reserve the right to withdraw from a case in the event that new facts significantly alter their ability or desire to represent a client. By following the guidelines discussed above, and honestly discussing the situation with your lawyer, you can minimize the chances that your lawyer would want to withdraw. And you will help maximize the effectiveness of your lawyer’s representation, thus enhancing your chances of success.
Debra Caligiuri practices all aspects of family law as well as mediation in Encinitas, CA. She also has a background in counseling, finance, and marketing.