Among the many uncomfortable things that come with going through a divorce is going through super personal and financial information with an attorney. Your lawyer is a stranger, someone you just met. Pouring over graphic details of the messiness of your marriage with the person sitting on the other side of the desk is not a fun process. But your attorney can’t advocate for you if they don’t know the real scoop on what brought you to their office.
During a divorce, you are putting your trust in your lawyer with the most important things in your life: Your children (if you have them) and your financial future. Honesty isn’t just the best policy— it is absolutely essential.
If there are skeletons in your closet, your ex may be game to leverage them during litigation. These are the top 4 things likely to haunt you if you don’t give your lawyer a heads up:
A colleague of mine once told me that we are in one of the only jobs in the world where not only is it appropriate to ask a woman about her sex life in the first hour of meeting her, it is downright necessary! If you are continuing to have sex with your soon-to-be-ex while going through a divorce, this is a big problem! In my jurisdiction, it could give cause to invalidate a separation agreement that was negotiated while you were still sexually entwined (it is called a confidential relationship). I have had cases where the divorce dragged on for years simply because the parties could not resist keeping their hands off each other. If you want out of your marriage, you’ve got to stay out of bed together!
READ MORE: When Lawyers Act Like Humans
If keeping things spicy with your spouse involved an open marriage, you need to open up to your attorney about it. Same goes with swinging, polyamory, home movies, sex clubs, and anything that may fall outside the bounds of vanilla sex. The law doesn’t keep pace with Dan Savage, so you have to share. In my jurisdiction and others, fault grounds still exist, and consensual kinky behavior can get misconstrued if your attorney learns about it for the first time in front of a judge. In some jurisdictions, adultery is an absolute bar to receiving alimony. Knowing that consent existed can ameliorate some very harsh consequences. Be full disclosure with your counsel, so they can protect you.
Sometimes people simply need a “reset” on their financial lives, and bankruptcy can be a great option for doing a financial control-alt-delete. Unfortunately, many people feel tremendous shame surrounding their bankruptcy filing and ‘forget’ to tell their attorney or shy away from sharing in the hopes that it’s not a big deal.
Making this mistake can cost you more than the debt you’re trying to leave behind: Filing for bankruptcy can stay (read: stop in its tracks) your divorce! I have had more than one client file for bankruptcy in the middle of their divorce and their entire divorce was put on hold until the bankruptcy was complete.
Failing to share your plans to file is loads of bad news for everyone involved: My clients’ bankruptcy attorneys had no idea they were going through a divorce, and I had no idea they planned to file for bankruptcy until I got a delightful little notice in my mailbox that there is an automatic stay on their case. Don’t wait for the postal service to tell your attorney you’re filing.
It’s not that these clients were dishonest people, they were simply embarrassed by both court cases. If bankruptcy is something you need, let your divorce attorney work with your bankruptcy attorney to ensure that the timing of both actions works together for your best interests. Help us help you!
Many of my clients struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues have been ashamed or straight up terrified to tell me. I need to know. I’m not here to judge you; I’m here to advocate for you!
I once found out about a client’s struggles with alcoholism on the morning of a two-day custody trial when my opposing counsel brought me last-minute evidence of a DUI my client had gotten two days before. I cannot protect my clients from things I don’t know about. Arm your attorney with information, in case your ex uses your addiction or mental illness as ammunition.
Being an addict or suffering from a mental illness does not equal being a bad person, or a bad parent. But if your attorney isn’t aware of your struggles, we can’t devise a strategy that makes it clear to the Court that you are addressing your particular challenges. If your ex knows about your addiction, substance abuse, or mental health diagnosis, you can be sure their attorney does as well. Don’t let your lawyer be the only person in the dark.
Every single mom has had them. Every. Single. Mom. You thought that simple cold would go away and waited too long to go to the pediatrician. You got into a screaming match with your sixteen-year-old daughter on a day where you just had it. You forgot to pick up your two-year-old son from daycare because you thought it was your ex’s turn. These mishaps happen to everyone.
Who you are during your worst mom moment does not define you as a mother. However, when you’re in the midst of a custody battle these moments can be put into evidence during a trial and held up as an example of how you parent. It is your attorney’s job to provide a counterbalance to the low points, and we can’t do this if we don’t know what they are.
I know it’s painful, embarrassing and just plain hard to share the most intimate details of your personal life with your lawyer, but doing so gives your attorney the best possible chance of creating your ideal New Normal. Bring your attorney in on all of the things you’d rather not share, so they can work with you to strategize to get the result you want.
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