Every so often, I meet someone who thinks he (well, usually it’s a he) knows more about the divorce than the woman who is supposed to become my client. They try to strong arm the conversation, to steer it in their direction, and to do everything in their power to “help” the divorcing woman.
A lot of times, that woman is coming out of an abusive relationship—and, frankly, it looks to me like she’s planning on jumping into the next one! Maybe it’s not a potential boyfriend (for her sake, I hope it’s not a CURRENT boyfriend, unless her divorce is already finalized); it could also be a dad or someone else who wants to take charge of the situation. Regardless, though, it spells trouble.
There are a couple principles that guide divorce and custody attorneys. Having probably not had a lot to do with divorce lawyers prior to know, these are things you should know and be aware of.
1. We only represent our client ONLY. The client isn’t necessarily the person paying the bills.
When an attorney is retained, the services are retained on behalf of a specific person. That person may be paying his or her own bills, or someone else may be paying them for her. In our practice, it’s very, very common that someone else would pay legal bills on behalf of our client.
Let me be very clear: paying bills does NOT mean that you are a client of the firm, or that you are entitled to receive information regarding the client whenever you desire it. The person for whom the services have been retained is the client, and her information will not be shared with a third party without the client formally signing something allowing that disclosure to take place.
Ultimately, it is our client’s interests we represent, whether or not that person is paying her own bills.
2. We need to hear from YOU. Your divorce, your words.
It’s really important to hear your story in your words, not someone else’s.
Just the other day I had a consult that was really interesting. By the time the woman came in our office, everyone knew about her because her “friend” had called 4-5 times trying to make sure that he would be allowed to sit in on her appointment. He kept telling our receptionist that he had to give them background, and made it sound like this woman was the most terrified, abused woman on the face of the planet, and that she needed him there to feel comfortable and to get all the information straight.
I knew enough to be concerned, but I also knew I wasn’t going to let him in the room with us without getting details from her first. I wanted to ask her questions and find out, first of all, whether she even WANTED him in there (up until I met her, I had only ever heard from him, not from her) and, second of all, whether he would allow her to get the information she needed.
Apparently, I didn’t need to worry. The woman came in, apparently unconcerned (certainly not the shrinking violet he had made her out to be), and proceeded to have a consultation with me without any trouble at all. And, it turns out, nothing that her friend had told me was actually true!
I’m afraid that if he had been a part of the consultation, he would have dominated the conversation and taken words out of her mouth. He was pretty abusive to our staff, so who knows what he says to her behind closed doors—or whether she’d feel like she’d be able to contradict him if he gave the wrong information? Her story was very different than his, and it really changed the legal advice I gave her.
I want your story, your words. Not someone else’s version of your story in their words.
However well meaning your support person may be, I need to hear from you—because what you say can really impact what happens in your case, and the legal advice that applies to your unique situation. Don’t waste time and money with someone who won’t let you tell your story. Even if you think he or she would do a decent job of it, you need to tell your divorce lawyer your story yourself. Again, your divorce, your words.
3. Having another person present defeats confidentiality.
Just by having someone else in the room with you, you waive confidentiality completely. That’s not to say, of course, that I’m going to go broadcast the details of our conversation; I’d never do that. Still, you should know that, just by having someone else in the room, you make whatever you say admissible in court. It’s no longer protected by attorney-client privilege. That’s a pretty big risk to take.
Not only that, but having another person present makes it even more difficult to have an honest conversation. Divorce brings up all sorts of complicated and embarrassing issues, so if the person that you’d like to bring in is someone that you can’t be honest around (or that you’d feel compelled to lie around), it’s probably not a good idea. Again, we need to hear your story in your words—not whatever story you’ve told friends and family.
Telling your story in your words is going to be critical to getting the advice that you need in your specific situation. Whatever it takes, you’re going to want to make sure that happens. When red flags go up in my mind, it makes me look more critically at the situation—like in the case I described here—but you’re also going to want to take whatever steps you can to make sure that you’re in a position to be as truthful with your divorce lawyer as possible. (After all, how else can you expect us to give good advice and do a good job?)
Your divorce, your words. It’s really that simple. For more information or to schedule a confidential consultation with one of our divorce attorneys, give our office a call at (757) 425-5200.