Can I trust my VA family law attorney’s judgment?

Posted on Feb 21, 2022 by Katie Carter

Divorce and custody cases are really, really difficult, emotionally, legally, logistically, and in about every other way you can possibly imagine. When you make the decision to hire an attorney to represent you in your case, and then go to the step of having an initial consultation with that person, it’s a first step – a big one, but, at the end of the day, just a single step.

It’s one thing to like an attorney enough to hire them, but it’s another thing to start to trust them, to listen to their judgment, and to follow their advice throughout a case, especially when that advice doesn’t necessarily jive with what feels right or authentic to you.

In some ways, that’s because you’re in crisis. Your body is triggered by what’s happening to you, and, in many ways, your body’s autonomic responses, like fight and flight, are reacting. Your brain is firing all over the place, telling you that it senses danger, that you need to do something to feel safer. It’s a primitive place in your brain, but it’s a common human experience in an overwhelming and threatening situation.

Not only that, but you probably have many real, legitimate concerns – and you may feel like your attorney’s advice doesn’t consider all of those concerns with the same gravity that you are giving them. Maybe you feel like your attorney really hasn’t had the opportunity to properly consider them, either.

It’s a big ask, after all. “Trust me, new client, even though we barely know each other. Trust me, with your financial freedom, with your children, with some humongous decisions about your life. Don’t ask questions, just trust me.” Right?

But we barely know each other!

Gosh, I get it. Believe me, I do! I’m a mom, too – and I’ve been through so many of these cases. I don’t want to say that I feel the struggles the way you do, but I’ve certainly experienced it a lot from the other side. I’ve had many a sleepless night as I worried about a client and her children and how to do the best job I possibly can for them.

And, sometimes, the advice we give is really unsatisfying advice, right? I mean, come on. It’s like when you were in kindergarten, and the kid on the bus bullied you, and your mom told you to – get this – turn the other cheek. Wait – maybe this was just me.

BAH! Of all the bad advice I ever got, sometimes I think that’s the worst! I still remember that kid, taunting me, and me thinking that my mom’s advice would really help me out. But did it? NO! He didn’t get bored, and stop teasing me, like my mom said he would! He teased me MORE. He was merciless. You know what stopped it?  My fists.  Actually, just kidding.  I literally never got in a fight at school, ever.  The thing that ended it?  Yeah, that was just the regular, anticlimactic end of the school year.

After that advice, I started to realize my mom wasn’t always right. And that was my mom, not some divorce attorney I had only had a couple of legitimate conversations with.

And then the attorney starts telling you, oh, now, “make sure you’re talking about coparenting,” and “they’re not ‘my’ kids, they’re ‘our’ kids” and “we really can’t make a claim of physical abuse without hard evidence” and “supervised visitation is really not common” or whatever it is that you’re hearing. You’re like, “wait, what?”

Your attorney is telling you that relocation is nearly impossible, that his adultery won’t matter as much as you think it should, that you shouldn’t call his command and report him for his behavior, that you really shouldn’t – no matter how justified – follow Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” example.

There’s so many divorce and custody no-nos, at least as far as family law attorneys are concerned. I know that, in many cases, the advice we give is not particularly satisfying advice. We say things like, “look, I know he committed adultery, but that doesn’t mean you should – there could be consequences, like to your spousal support,” and “I know he’s not paying child support, but that doesn’t mean that you can withhold visitation,” and “No, he won’t have to pay all of your attorney’s fees, even though he’s the one who want the divorce.”

There’s a lot of really unsatisfying things we have to do and say in order to put you in the strongest possible position when your case comes to court – or when we sit down to negotiate your case. Any bad acts on your part will up the tension, will undermine your credibility, and potentially even cause concern about your fitness to do things like have primary physical custody.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you should just blindly follow the advice your attorney is giving you. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask why, or to discuss advantages and disadvantages associated with a particular course of action. I always enjoy these conversations, because I know it means that my client is really listening to the advice that I’m giving. I respect a bit of critical thinking, and am definitely game to have a strategy conversation – so bring it on. Most attorneys are, I think, happy to discuss why they’re recommending a particular course of action.

If you’re really not sure, or you aren’t convinced by your attorney’s explanation, get a second opinion! Hey, there’s a lot at stake here! You probably wouldn’t let a doctor cut on you without hearing from a second – or maybe even a third! – medical professional, and if you’re feeling concerned about your attorney’s advice it’s always a good idea to run it by a neutral (who is also kind of an expert in the field, though ethically we’re not allowed to call ourselves that) third party.

Besides, it’s possible that you’re right. Maybe your attorney isn’t the best attorney, or his strategy fails to take some critical concept into consideration. Having a conversation will either help you articulate your concern and come up with an alternate strategy to address it or it will help you realize that your current attorney is not the best attorney to handle your case.

It’s a big ask, but usually when we’re giving advice it’s not just to hear ourselves talk. We’ve seen hundreds or potentially even thousands of these cases, and we’ve seen where mistakes are made. Your attorney is on your side, and her entire goal is to see you where you want to be at the end of your case.
For more information, or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys (as an initial consultation or to get a second opinion on your current representation) give us a call at 757-425-5200.