Your attorney said WHAT?!

Posted on Nov 29, 2017 by Katie Carter

Divorce and custody cases are high stress situations.  It’s not very often that I get an email or a call from a client who isn’t feeling pretty frantic.  They want answers, and they want them now, and they can’t sleep until they get them.  They’re so worried, and they don’t know how anything will turn out, and they’d give an awful lot to just KNOW.

Probably most people hire attorneys.  I don’t have actual statistics on that or anything, but I’d say that, eventually, most people eventually decide that it’d be easier – and better – if someone represented their interests for them.  They’ll feel better, they decide, knowing that someone is in their corner, fighting for their best interests.

After all, in divorce, there’s a lot at stake.  What’s a couple thousand dollars to safeguard your interests in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in marital assets that you’ve accumulated over the years?

Though you may not feel like you have a ton to your name, by the time you take into account real property and retirement assets, most people have a fair chunk of change to divide. And custody?  Oh my gosh, it’s even worse!  You can’t put a dollar amount on custody, after all.  It’s not like you can make a cost benefit assessment based off of what custody is worth and what you’d pay to win it, like you can with another asset.

Hiring an attorney comes with a downside though: you have to trust all the things that are most important to you in the world to their judgment.  For a lot of us, that doesn’t come easy.  I mean, most of the time, your attorney isn’t someone you know all that well; you probably just met!  And they’re helping you make all sorts of huge decisions about how all your assets and liabilities will be divided.  They’re making strategic, case-based decisions, too.  They’re deciding what witnesses to call, what evidence to request, and setting all sorts of priorities for your case – decisions that you may not have a huge role in making as well.

I talked to a woman earlier today who told me that she believed her husband’s attorney was also the guardian ad litem.  (No—that’s not possible.)  Another who told me that the attorney she spoke with at the JAG office told her that the military would enforce it’s own support guidelines, and protect her interest in her military retirement.  (Umm, what?)  Still another who said that her attorney (a man!) was hitting on her, and had started to ask her to go out with him, and she felt like to refuse him would ultimately hurt her case.  (Ahhhh!)

I mean, really.  Those are extreme cases, but they illustrate the fact that most people don’t know what’s going on in their case.  They don’t understand the legal principles involved.  And, of course, just like in any other profession, there are attorneys who are unscrupulous.  I mean, I know lots of people have bad opinions of attorneys anyway (we’re not all bad, I promise – in fact, we’re mostly pretty awesome), but I think there’s just a whole lot of confusion in a lot of cases, too.

When I listen to most people describe cases that have been going on awhile, it’s clear that there are a lot of pieces that are somehow lost in translation. If you’re working with an attorney, and you’re not confident in the advice you’re being given, get a second opinion! Just like a doctor, if you doubt the opinion of an attorney, talk to another.  Strategically there are a lot of choices to be made, and attorneys aren’t infallible.  If you aren’t sure, you’re certainly entitled to ask questions and make sure you understand.   There are a lot of complicated, nuanced rules here that attorneys are often trying to weave their way around.  Answers are more difficult than you  might think they need to be (though, to be fair, that’s not our fault!).

A simple question like, “how long should my divorce even take?!” isn’t as simple as you might think it is.   If, though, for any reason, you’re questioning the advice of your attorney, talk to another one!  When I was in law school, I talked to an attorney who told me it was key to always work with an attorney who promised you the result you wanted to see.

Now, as an attorney myself, I try to set very clear expectations – I don’t make guarantees (especially in cases where the judge  may ultimately decide), but I do tell people what I’ve seen in cases like theirs, what judicial trends lead me to believe, and what a worst case scenario might look like.  I wouldn’t tell someone, “Oh, yeah, you’ll definitely be able to relocate with the kids to Japan,” because, let’s face it, it’s pretty unlikely in almost every case.  But I can tell you what will happen with respect to things like retirement, and the marital residence, and many other pretty significant details.  That’s not to say that there can’t be some variance, but…still, I can often illustrate what a ballpark might look like!

Conversations with an attorney are often of a sensitive nature, so you should also hire someone that you feel comfortable being honest with.  We need the truth, regardless of whether it’s a comfortable thing to say, so your personalities have to work well together.  It doesn’t happen too often, but every so often I get a client who makes me feel like, no matter what I say, they just won’t be comfortable with me or my choices.  I always tell those clients to talk to another attorney.  If they feel more comfortable with someone else, by all means, use that person.  Your level of trust in and comfort with your attorney is hugely important, especially since you’re entrusting so much to their care. You don’t want to wonder, later, whether a different choice could have meant a different result.

Ask the questions.  Get the answers.  Make the best decision for you, the one that makes you feel the most comfortable and secure, both in the information that you have at your disposal, and in the results you feel the attorney will be able to achieve for you.

Doubting your attorney?  That’s okay.  It happens.  You’re not sunk.  You can always fire your attorney and hire a new one.  But you’ll probably want to do some research first.

Need information on divorce?  Consider attending our monthly divorce seminar where you’ll have a chance to hear all about divorce live from a Virginia divorce attorney dedicated to representing women only in divorce and custody cases.

Need information on custody?  Great.  Consider attending Custody Bootcamp for Moms, our custody-specific seminar, designed to teach Virginia moms all they need to know about custody cases in Virginia.

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