Divorce clients worry about whether they should tell their attorney everything or keep some facts secret.
It’s difficult to be totally honest because the issues are personal and can be embarrassing. Even when you know conversations with your attorney are confidential, some things make you feel ashamed so you are reluctant to be totally open about them. For example, suppose you have slapped or spanked your child or you are having an affair. You may be tempted to omit these details–but that’s dangerous because if your attorney doesn’t know about the potential problem, it may damage your case.
1. Disclose All Relevant Information.
It’s important to share all relevant facts with your divorce attorney so he or she can prepare for and deal with potential problems. Even if you think a particular fact is irrelevant to your divorce, make certain to mention it to your attorney so he or she can decide whether the item could create a problem down the road. You don’t need to tell your attorney everything about your marriage and children, but make certain to share all items relevant to the issues of your case. If you are in doubt about what your attorney needs to know, get guidance on what’s relevant.
2. Provide a Written History of Your Marriage.
It’s helpful for your attorney to have a written statement outlining the important facts in your marriage, including how you met your spouse, when you married, the names and ages of your children, your education, where you work, critical events in your marriage, what you think caused the divorce, and who wants the divorce. A good way to organize the history is chronologically from when you met your spouse. Put together a time line of important dates. Also, list the major assets you and your spouse own and any property that one of you claims is separate.
3. Share Sensitive Information.
You probably don’t want to tell your attorney you are having an affair or physically abusing your spouse or children, but it’s critical that your attorney knows about these difficult facts so he or she can be properly prepared to defend you if they come up in the course of your divorce. During the discovery process, if you opt for a litigated divorce, these facts are likely to come up and in a collaborative divorce, you are obligated to share all relevant information with the other side. Some attorney use investigators to search for damaging facts, and if there is a suspicion of an affair, an investigator is likely to be involved. If you are in an abusive relationship, make certain you tell your lawyer, even if you are ashamed of it. Also, if you have contracted a sexually transmitted disease or have hidden assets or debts, tell your lawyer.
4. Issues to Discuss.
There are a number of important issues you will need to discuss with your attorney during the first meeting, including child custody, child support, spousal support, division of the marital estate, any separate property claims, community debts, and your expectations about the likely outcome of the case. You will want to discuss sole or joint custody of the children, standard visitation or shared custody of your children, who is likely to be responsible for paying child support, how much that might be, whether your spouse is eligible for spousal maintenance, and the division of your community estate. Make certain you share with your attorney any facts that might favor you getting a larger share of the community estate, such as higher income earned by your spouse, health issues, disability, separate property of both spouses, and whether there has been spousal abuse.
5. Things Not to Say.
Finally, there are some things you should not say to your prospective attorney, such as “I don’t care about costs because I want to punish my spouse, I want to bring a friend with me to our meeting, I need to get this over with as soon as possible because I want to remarry, or I will never pay child support to my ex-spouse.”
Telling a lawyer you don’t care about costs may double your attorney’s fees. Bringing a friend to the meetings with your attorney may destroy attorney-client privilege. Being in a hurry will put you at a disadvantage and may increase the cost of your divorce. Never say never, because you will likely have to change your mind during the course of the divorce process. Finally, make certain you are clear about attorney fees, who will manage your divorce, and if you understand what your attorney has told you.