Legal Advice You Don’t Want to Hear in Family Law Cases
I know. You’re shocked. Sometimes, it’s really, really hard. And one of the times when it’s the hardest is when you have to give advice to your client that you know she’s not going to want to hear.
“Now is not the time to be dating.”
“Maybe you can’t really afford to keep the house.”
“You have to answer the discovery.”
“You likely won’t receive as much spousal support as you want for as long as you want.”
“He’s going to get at least some parenting time.”
I gave some examples, just to put you in the right head space, but not to suggest that what I’ve come up with here is a complete and exhaustive list of the kind of advice that we could give that our clients would be less than happy to receive.
I’m a recovering people pleaser, so it is very hard for me to face truths that I know other people won’t like – especially when their behavior is contributing to the problem and I have to explicitly point it out. But, like I said, I’m working on it. And, professionally, it really doesn’t matter how I feel personally or whether something makes me uncomfortable. I am ethically required to represent my clients zealously, and that means that I have to be strong and deliver the bad news.
Yes, sometimes my clients get mad. Yes, sometimes they tell me that I’m working for “the other side”. Yes, sometimes they ignore me. Yes, sometimes they lie to me.
So, to recap, there’s four basic reactions to receiving less-than-favorable advice, in my experience:
For each of those four reactions, I’ve written a response.
You are absolutely entitled to be angry. You’re entitled to all your feelings. And, if I may be so bold, I think I’d posit that a lot of your anger is coming from a place of fear of the unknown. Of course, it may just be legitimate, garden variety anger, too – which is also fine.
I hate when clients are angry with me. I hate when anybody is angry with me. (Like I said – recovering people pleaser.) But I would also say, gently, of course, that your anger is misplaced. I’m not here to hurt you, or to keep you from having fun, or to do a bad job at being your lawyer. I don’t want to hurt anyone, I like fun as much as the next person, and it is absolutely always my job to advocate as well for my clients as I can. But I also have to manage expectations, keep things reasonable, and, ideally, keep things moving.
Feel angry. Be angry. And, by all means, ask questions about my advice if you don’t understand. Get a second opinion if you don’t find that advice convincing, and you want to know whether someone else would give the same advice.
But, respectfully, I’d also suggest that the best thing for you to do – aside from asking questions or getting that second opinion (which, I assure you, will not offend me in the least) – is to try to deal with the anger itself. Talk to someone, preferably a therapist. What you’re going through is a big deal, and you’d be inhuman not to be feeling really big, scary, overwhelming feelings about it. But deal with it in a healthy, productive way so that you’re in the best possible position in your divorce. Don’t let fear or trauma cloud your judgment and hurt your case.
“It’s like you’re my HUSBAND’S lawyer!”
“Are you just friends with my husband’s lawyer?”
“Are you even representing MY best interests?”
I get it – you’re upset. And you don’t trust the advice, for one reason or another. That’s totally fair. Divorce and custody cases are, in large part, out of your wheelhouse. And, in some cases, the advice runs counter to your instincts. You don’t know me that well. And you’re expected to just blindly trust me?
I mean, sure, it’s easy to trust someone when they’re not giving you bad news. In our initial consultation, you thought I was great! But now I’m giving you advice that (1) you don’t like, and (2) doesn’t feel right. It feels so wrong! And who am I, anyway?
I think it’s a good idea to ask questions, if you don’t understand, and to get a second opinion if you still don’t trust the advice.
I can assure you, though, that I am not working for your husband. I’ve never represented men, and I certainly don’t intend to start with your husband. Not only that, but I have an ethical obligation to represent YOU. I don’t want to lose my law license.
I do, however, have a healthy sense of what happens in these types of cases. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know a thing or two.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or fearful, it’s probably a good idea to talk to a therapist or counselor about it. You’re under a ton of pressure, and there’s no question that these are really difficult circumstances.
If you still don’t trust me – or whoever you’re working with – maybe it just isn’t going to work out. It’s difficult to maintain an attorney/client relationship when the client is so doubtful about the advice, so here I’d also really push the whole second opinion thing, with the encouragement that, maybe, you really should just hire someone else.
We typically give advice in our appointments, over the phone, email or Skype. We’re not in there with you in your day to day as you go about your life, actually following the advice you were given (or not).
So, some people decide that, as good as the advice might be, it’s just not for them. They don’t follow it.
It’s your life. You’re free to not follow the advice. But I definitely don’t give advice for my health; the only reason I give advice (especially advice that my clients already don’t want to hear) is to look out for them and help them avoid certain consequences. You aren’t contractually required to follow advice, though. You’re an adult, and you’re free to do what you want.
But… there may be consequences. And you should be prepared for that. Maybe, even, you should ask, beforehand, what the consequences might be if you were to take a different course of action. (After all, this isn’t a dictatorship!) If, for example, you’re tempted to relocate with the child in violation of a custody order, talk to your attorney first. Maybe hearing the potential consequences of that action might cause you to change your mind. Always better to have an in depth discussion ahead of time than to ignore advice and find out later that you’ll live to regret it. Maybe you can live with the consequences. Maybe you can’t. But definitely smart to talk about it ahead of time.
And, above all, don’t lie about having followed the advice, which leads me to number 4.
It’s tempting to lie to save face, especially when you got (and discarded) perfectly good advice. From the perspective of your attorney, though, it’s quite difficult to do a good job representing someone without having full access to all the facts.
It’s quite easy to get tripped up in court, or wind up looking stupid, without a firm grasp of what’s going on. And why on earth would you pay an attorney thousands of dollars to (1) not follow their advice, and (2) lie to them about it?
Going to court is difficult enough; going into court with an attorney who doesn’t know all of the facts is terrifying. Don’t do this. If you’re going to not follow advice, at least be up front about it. An attorney who knows the truth – however less-than-desirable the truth might be – is infinitely better prepared than an attorney who has no idea what’s actually going on. Don’t do this.
Worst case scenario: you wind up with a result that you hate, and an attorney who withdraws from your case because of the untenable position you put her in.
At the end of the day, it’s always up to you whether you follow advice that you’re given – and, ultimately, you’re the one who will deal with the consequences, if any. To best represent you, though, your attorney needs you to be up front and honest. Ideally, you’d have an open, realistic conversation about the options available to you, and the advantages and disadvantages of each course of action.
You hired an attorney, or at least sought the advice of an attorney, for a reason. It is entirely possible that now, or at some point in the future, you’ll get advice that you don’t like. My advice to you, in that situation, is (1) to deal effectively with any underlying issues, like trauma or fear, in therapy, so that you can make the best decisions possible, and (2) have a real, open, honest conversation with your lawyer about the advice, alternatives, and consequences.
Ultimately, if you’re just in a stalemate, you should consider either getting a second opinion, or hiring someone else who is more in line with your views. Once the strength of the attorney/client relationship is undermined, it’s difficult to recover. That’s not a position you want to find yourself in, and, as the attorney, it’s definitely not a situation I’d like to be in.
For more information, to request a copy of our books or free reports, or to schedule a consultation (whether an initial consultation or one to get a second opinion) give our office a call at 757-425-5200.