Going through a divorce is an isolating experience. Once you’ve made the decision to divorce and it’s time to schedule an initial consultation, it can start to feel really real. You’re emotional, maybe you’re also going through some unresolved trauma, and you’re worried for the future – financially, emotionally, logistically.
You’re worried you’re not in the best position to go to a consultation, remember to ask all your questions, and store the information you receive away for future use. You really want someone else to be there, to help you, to ask the questions that wouldn’t occur to you, and to hear what is said and help talk you through your options later on. You need moral support; you need a shoulder to lean on.
You need your mom.
Or your dad. Or your friend, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, neighbor, or coworker. There are a million different places you might find the support that you need to get through that first consultation with a divorce lawyer, and there’s no ‘wrong’ person.
Well, there is ONE wrong person. You can’t bring your soon to be ex spouse.
A family law attorney can’t represent both parties in a divorce action.
In some areas of the law – estate planning springs to mind – an attorney can represent both a husband and a wife, because their interests are aligned. They have a view for how to divide their assets, and they’re going in together to accomplish it.
In family law, though, that’s not the case. Though you’re still married, you have separate interests – so you can’t share the same lawyer. A lawyer has an ethical obligation to zealously represent her client’s interests, and a family law attorney can’t zealously represent both a husband and a wife. What if the wife needs spousal support and the husband doesn’t want to pay it? Zealously representing someone doesn’t mean meeting in the middle – it means representing your client’s perspective, and your client’s alone.
You want someone to help you meet in the middle? You’re thinking more of mediation. A mediator can work with both a husband and a wife, but definitely make sure you read up on the advantages and disadvantages of mediation before you sign up.
So, all of that to say: you can bring someone if you like, but that someone should not be your spouse.
Can I bring someone other than my spouse to my initial consultation for divorce?
Yes! Although there are some caveats, you can bring someone with you to your initial consultation for divorce.
Caveat #1: If you bring someone to your initial consultation, you technically waive confidentiality.
Technically, having anyone else with you and your attorney while you have a privileged conversation (yes, this counts as ‘privileged’), you waive confidentiality. You don’t just waive it with respect to the three people in the room, though; you waive it globally.
If your third person is circumspect, it really shouldn’t be a problem – after all, it’s not like an attorney is going to run around blabbing about your case just because there was a third party in the room. But there are no rules binding your person to confidentiality, or anything stopping him or her from sharing the confidences that were shared in the room.
It’s not always a problem, but occasionally it can be. Even though they usually are well meaning, I’ve heard of this third party intervening to try to save the marriage – with, sometimes disastrous consequences for the people involved.
Caveat #2: The topics discussed are sensitive, so don’t bring someone you can’t be honest around to your initial consultation.
Family law is one of the most human areas of law. We talk a lot about sex, religion, parenting, finances, and other hot-button issues that might be difficult for you to discuss in front of someone else.
If you aren’t able to share, for example, that you have credit card debt and pay day loans in front of your dad, maybe you should leave him at home. If you can’t admit that you and your husband were swingers, or discuss adultery (yours or his), or have an honest conversation about real sexual issues in front of your mom, maybe she’s not the best person to bring.
An attorney can’t be effective without accurate information, so make sure that you bring someone you can be honest around, and around whom you don’t have to censor the information you share. If you can’t be honest, you may be better off coming alone.
Caveat #3: This is about YOU, not THEM.
You’re not paying for a consultation so that your person can tell the attorney about your marriage, about their marriage, or their issues with your husband, or your divorce. If they can’t be a (mostly) silent and totally sympathetic helper, then they’re really not a great fit.
We don’t need histrionics from someone else, or to deal with someone else’s issues processing what you’re going through. You need someone who can be there for you, so that no matter how you feel about it or how you respond to being in that consultation, you get the consultation you paid to have.
We’re used to tears. We’re used to anger, to frustration, to incredulity. We deal with substance abuse, mental health, and more – but we need to help our current and former clients, and not have extra to deal with from the people who our prospective clients bring along. It distracts us from focusing on who is most important: you.
You may love how your sister is a spitfire, but, in this application, she’s your support person only. If she can’t occupy the role you need her to occupy, it’s better to kick her out.
Caveat #4: Your new romantic interest is probably not the right choice.
Technically, you could bring a boyfriend – but it’s not smart. And, anyway, it’s not really appropriate. Again, you’re going to need to be completely honest in that appointment, and you don’t want any distractions from the issues you need to handle.
It’s also a concern from an adultery and/or spousal support perspective.
Don’t bring your boyfriend. Find someone else.
It’s fine to bring someone along, if they’re helping you. Dealing with a separation and divorce is hard under the best circumstances, and it’s worse if you feel alienated, overwhelmed, and alone. If you have the right person in your life to help support you through the process, by all means, bring them.
For more information, or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.