What if I lied to my Virginia divorce attorney?

Posted on Aug 22, 2018 by Katie Carter

It happens sometimes that our clients lie to us. I get it – it’s scary. It’s overwhelming. And there are maybe some facts in your case that you’re not entirely proud of – and may be intensely embarrassed of. You may be afraid of what might happen if those details get out. It’s not that uncommon.

First thing’s first. Hire an attorney that you’re comfortable talking with. Lots of stuff in divorce and custody cases is uncomfortable. (Trust me, I get it! I regularly have to tell people that adultery includes sodomy and buggery, which, in addition to oral and anal sex, also includes bestiality – talk about an awkward discussion.) Sex comes up. Money comes up. It’s uncomfortable. I get it; it’d be difficult for me to discuss, too.

Hire someone that you can talk to, and it’ll go a long way.

How much should I tell my attorney?

Well, that all depends. If you know anything about criminal law, you probably know that, most of the time, criminal attorneys don’t ask their clients whether they did whatever the crime was that they’ve been charged with. It’s harder for the attorney to mount a defense when they have a confession lingering in the back of their minds. Also, they don’t want to risk violating an ethical obligation in the courtroom. The less they know, the better.

In divorce law, it’s somewhat that way. Adultery is a crime in Virginia, and it also disqualifies a spouse from receiving spousal support, so there are a lot of potential issues that come up when things like this happen. Obviously, whatever you tell your attorney is confidential, but that doesn’t mean that you always need to discuss everything. If no one knows you committed adultery and then it never comes up, well, it’s fine to not have mentioned it. I wouldn’t lie no matter what (after all, what good does it do to lie to your attorney, the one person in the world who totally has your back?).

Where we have issues is when a client lies about something that ends up being a problem later on down the line. When something is an issue in your case and then you lie to your attorney about it, it’s hard for your attorney to get the information to properly prepare your case. If your husband has even the slightest whiff of suspicion (and there’s some truth to what he believes), he may be able to find evidence that you don’t know he can find. Even if he, say, hacks into your Facebook or email account and finds some information illegally, the damage can be done to your divorce or custody case regardless.

Even if it’s not information he obtains illegally, if it’s something he could theoretidally obtain – like, say, footage from your doorbell camera, or recordings from your Google Home or Alexa device – lying to your attorney can impair her ability to adequately prepare for your case, and can even do irreparable damage.

After all, what good is an attorney who doesn’t know the facts? How can your attorney prepare for your case without any kind of idea what’s going on? You should probably at least clue your attorney in for any potential issues.

What happens if I lie to my attorney?

All sorts of things can happen. You can mess up your case – that’s probably the biggest thing. Whether you do it yourself by appearing inconsistent (or being downright contradicted on the stand), or whether your attorney looks like a buffoon because she isn’t prepared to discuss things she had no idea were issues, it can cause pretty serious damage.

Your attorney might even withdraw. Yes – attorneys can withdraw from cases! We don’t do it often, of course, because we like our clients and want to see them successful. But in cases where we feel like our clients can’t be honest with us and we can’t prepare a decent case, we might withdraw. There could be an ethical issue, too, in the sense that we aren’t permitted to make material misrepresentations to the court. Even if we didn’t know, if it comes to light that the information we presented to the court wasn’t factually correct, it makes us look suspect. No attorney wants her bar license clouded this way; we have professional reputations to protect, too!

You can get a new attorney later on if your attorney fires you, but isn’t it generally better to just be honest and avoid the drama and stress? You don’t have to bring up issues that are irrelevant, but if, say, adultery is an issue in your case, you might want to address it head on. Even if it’s true that you and your “friend” didn’t have sex (that’s right, it requires actual sex to be adultery), it’s much more believable if you come out with that story straightaway. If your attorney knows and is prepared for this, she can sound much more authoritative and believable if she can respond quickly and easily to allegations made by your husband. When you lie or misrepresent the truth, it can make it look like there’s more to the story than there really is!

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