Having "practiced" family law for nearly 30 years, I've run across all kinds of interesting folks and continue to be fascinated by the way they handle themselves during our meetings. So often folks leave my office having asked all the wrong questions, or worse, having said all the wrong things. The Internet is full of checklists available for clients to use while vetting potential counsel for the dissolution of their marriage. What's more important is what should never be said to your divorce lawyer:
- "I'd rather pay you than pay my spouse." Would you pay your doctor for more surgery if you didn't need it? While it's flattering and a little thrilling to hear these words, in the end, most litigants reassess this stance and balk at the final bill. Caught up in the moment, revenge may be an attractive objective, but in the end, hard-earned dollars are better spent on your family or a nice trip to the Bahamas. The process will be costly enough without the added anger premium.
- "May I bring my new lover into the interview with me?" Ever heard of attorney client privilege? Well, it goes out the window if there's a third party present who is not officially associated with your case. All those secrets spilt out are open season for your wife's cagey lawyer in deposition, or more distressing, your paramour's deposition.
- "I just want this OVER with!" Compromise is necessary and unavoidable in order to bring matters to a close. Still the party who desperately wants out usually pays handsomely and later regrets it.
- "My neighbor says that..." Unless your neighbor, office buddy, or postal carrier is an experienced family law attorney, stop second guessing on the street. Divorces are like fingerprints. No two outcomes are exactly alike. Every couple's situation is unique. That neighbor who's collecting a fat alimony check each month may have been married to someone longer, wealthier, and more desperate. She undoubtedly drew a different judge in a dissimilar county, most likely in a robust economy. Marital dissolution is a confluence of varied circumstances and economies. Judges are randomly assigned. Add in the good (or bad) luck of the judicial draw to the equation. You can't divorce your judge. Nor can you force your spouse to give up their lawyer.
- "My partner promises I'll see the kids more/pay less -- I just have to sign the papers." Yes, and the tooth fairy promises to visit on a regular basis. This is often accompanied by the above desperate "I just want this over with" or worse, a terminal case of the "guilties." The litigant whose spouse is suddenly reasonable after protracted mistreatment may be so relieved by the sudden burst of apparent civility that they forget who they're dealing with. Just remember that the angry and manipulative parent who sat your kids down and described your affair with their coach is still in there somewhere. Unless they've gotten some serious help, they're probably still pretty hostile. So beware. Once you sign on the line, it's nearly impossible and unbelievably expensive to modify the deal.
Let the advocate do what they do best -- sift through the most relevant information in order to give a fair assessment of options and probable outcomes.
Above all, never say "never." Never say you won't pay, never say your spouse can or can't have "everything," never walk away from your kids, and never say you will never forgive. There is no best case scenario in divorce, but the least harmful are those where families move on, intact in a different way, with couples who are open to a new and modified relationship with someone they once cherished enough to pledge eternal life together.