Deserved Apology or Dangerous Admission? (Part 2)

By Jennifer M. Paine

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell, P.C., Detroit office

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the secret cost of saying “I’m sorry.” Click here to read Part 1.

Another public personality, shame-faced and sullen, said “I’m sorry” to an angrily silent room, his endorsers and busy cameras this past week. Whether you love him or hate him, believed him or could care less, Tiger Woods broadcast his apology worldwide to his wife, Elin Nordegren, and to you.

For you, those words you think are a deserved apology could be a dangerous admission.

Unfortunately, when spouses face mounting proof and/or wild accusations of an affair, like Tiger Woods, the temptation to speak up is great. What should you say if you want to say, “I’m sorry”? Forget the “I’m sorry for sleeping with other women and neglecting you and the children” apology a la Tiger Woods. Try these “friendly” admissions instead.


In Therapy: If your dirty deeds are driving you crazy, talk to a psychologist. In many jurisdictions, your conversations with a psychologist are privileged. The purpose of this privilege is to protect the confidential nature of the relationship between the psychologist and the patient, and only the patient (in our scenario, you) may waive it and permit the psychologist to testify. See, e.g., Jack v Jack, 239 NW2d 231 (Mich Ct App 2000). Not all jurisdictions recognize this privilege, so be sure to discuss your therapy plans with your lawyer first.

In Church: If your moral transgressions are dying for confession, go to church. In most jurisdictions, your conversations with your church leader (whatever the denomination, be he the Pope or the free-wheeling multi-denominational type) are also privileged. The purpose of the clergy-penitent privilege, like the psychologist-patient privilege, is to protect a relationship our society has long treated as confidential (indeed, in this scenario, sacred). So long as you make the confession to the church leader in his or her professional capacity and in accordance with your religion’s discipline, it is protected, and only you may waive it. See, e.g., People v Lipsczinska, 180 NW 617 (Mich 1920). Be sure to discuss your plans, but perhaps not the actual confession, with your lawyer first because not all jurisdictions recognize the privilege for every religion.

In The Child’s Best Interests: If therapy and church just will not do, be sure to keep any confession focused on your children’s best interests. Think about every statement you make and ask yourself, “Would this sound bad in court?” and “How can I make this sound good, yet be sincere?” For example, forget, “I’m sorry I spent the weekend with Shelly and not the kids.” Go with, “I’m sorry I had a momentary lapse in judgment; I am usually so focused on spending the weekend with the kids, as I have repeatedly during our marriage.”

The best practice, however, is to say nothing at all. Lawyers have a crafty way of twisting words, and even the well-intentioned apology could turn into a costly confession in court.

Let the desire for an apology give way to the goal in your case: the best outcome for you and your children. That means forgoing apologies you think are deserved to set yourself on good ground in court, because your spouse’s lawyer will turn them into dangerous admissions.

Remember, you are not Tiger Woods with a public persona and endorsements to salvage – and, if you are, maybe you too should have taken this advice.

Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the secret cost of saying “I’m sorry.” Click here to read Part 1.


Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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