Is what I tell my divorce attorney confidential?

Posted on Aug 21, 2019 by Katie Carter

The things that you tell a divorce attorney are sensitive, maybe even more sensitive than the kind of information you might communicate to any other kind of attorney. A personal injury attorney usually comes to mind first; to her, you might only give details of your medical history related to a particular accident. While that could be sensitive – and it obviously is protected by HIPAA – it doesn’t often cover the depth and breadth of information that you might have to share in a divorce case.

A divorce is a big deal, because we deal with so many things. Most clients tell us personal information just to explain what brought them into the office – whether it’s infidelity, substance abuse, domestic violence, problems with addiction, or really just about anything else, it’s embarrassing, its sensitive, and its probably not the kind of thing you go around sharing.

Even with your best friends, you may feel uncomfortable sharing this kind of information. When your marriage problems first came up, maybe you didn’t want to share because you hoped you’d work through it, and, anyway, you didn’t want your friends to hate your husband. That’s a hard mirror to have reflected back at you, especially if your friends are constantly telling you that you should break up with him. That kind of pressure can break a friendship.

And maybe, as time went on, what you hadn’t said to your friends became more and more difficult to say. Or maybe your friend is happily married to a man who seems so wonderful that it’s tricky to even bring up the conversation.

Whatever the case may be, it’s difficult to talk about these issues. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In divorce, we talk about everything. The kids come up a lot, obviously, including a particular client’s feelings on how they should be raised (and all the ways their child’s father falls short of expectations). Whether it’s breastfeeding, homeschooling, children with special needs, the cost of a private education, or even just the increased costs of extracurricular activities (like traveling sports teams), a lot of things can come up.

Finances, too, are involved. To the extent that a married couple shares a lot of debt, that’ll have to be discussed and divided. It can also be difficult to discuss the assets involved, especially if the overall feeling is that there really isn’t enough to go around. It’s never fun to talk to a 60-something year old woman, who hasn’t worked in years, but who has no (or very little) retirement money saved, especially when its divided by two. Younger couples can run up against the same issues, too. While you were married and part of a team, it may not have seemed like such a problem, but in a divorce – well, it can be a sensitive discussion.

Support, too, is sensitive, especially when it relates both to how you want to raise your children and whether you’ll have to, for example, re-enter the work force.

So, all of that to say… There’s a lot of embarrassing, uncomfortable, distressing, and complicated information to convey. So you want to be sure that you’re sharing this information in a safe place. Right?

Well, attorneys ARE bound by confidentiality. We can share information, but only to the extent that our clients allow us to share it.

But are client communications ALWAYS confidential? That’s an interesting question.

And there’s an easy answer – no.

Client communications are ONLY confidential when the attorney and client are one on one. If anyone else is present – including your new husband, one of your parents, a sibling, a neighbor, a best friend, whoever – that violates confidentiality.

Why? Well, because that third person isn’t bound by confidentiality; he or she being present breaks that bond. That doesn’t mean that the attorney should go around spouting off that information, but it does mean that it’s risky for you to involve a third party in communications with your lawyer.

I get it. It’s nice to have someone else. It’s a comfort, and they can help in the sense that they’re not so emotionally involved. They can remember to ask questions, or maybe even to ask things that you haven’t yet thought of.

But it’s not always a good idea, and you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. I always am a little nervous when a client or prospective client wants to bring a third person in. No one else can weigh the advantages and disadvantages for you, but it’s definitely a cost/benefit consideration that you’ll want to consider.

Not only that, but I worry that a client won’t be quiet as honest if she has an audience. It’s difficult to talk about these kinds of problems in front of a friend – even a friend that you think you’ve already been pretty honest with. Even if she knows about some of the marital issues (or even all of them), maybe it’ll be difficult to have a full and frank conversation about your assets and liabilities in front of her.

Your attorney will keep your confidences, even if a third party is present. But you should be aware that, technically, the bond IS broken when a third party is there.

You’re asking great questions so far, and it’s good that you’re considering these things ahead of time. It’s nice to have someone there with you; after all, divorce is intimidating and overwhelming, especially at the beginning. But is it worth the trade off? No one can determine that for you, but it’s certainly worth considering.

For more information, or to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.