A family law attorney explains why full-disclosure is important to your case.
By Holly Hearn, J.D. of Cordell & Cordell, PC
Your relationships with prior wives, girlfriends, or current partners will be put under a microscope by an adversary.
A few months ago, I was headed to a Temporary Orders hearing in one of my divorce cases, and I stepped onto the elevator with the attorney representing the other spouse in the case. I noticed that the attorney was pulling a dolly behind her, but I dismissed it as evidence for an unrelated case since I had been told by my client that he had no “skeletons in the closet” and my research seemed to verify his position…
About an hour later, I was the one pulling the same dolly, which was loaded with almost every type of adult magazine currently in publication, complete with flags and dog-eared pages. When I demanded an explanation from my client as to why he left such a huge issue out of our conversations despite my questions on that very subject, he simply replied “I didn’t think she knew about it.” As an attorney, I cannot prepare for what I do not know. Even if no one is aware of your behavior, or your old conviction from another state, or the drinking habit that ruined your first marriage, it is still imperative that you discuss these issues with your attorney. The attorney-client privilege exists for a reason, and none of us are here to delve into your personal life and past indiscretions. Chances are, if you don’t tell me, the other attorney will, but it will be during a deposition, or worse, during an argument in court, and by then the damage could be irreparable. Help Me Help You
Even though I borrowed a line from the movie Jerry McGuire, I’m sure Tom Cruise would agree that it applies to family law cases. It is crucial that you tell me, as your attorney, everything, even if you don’t think it matters, so that I can decide the proper course of action to take. If I know of a potential problem ahead of time, then I have an opportunity to discuss it with you in detail and learn of the circumstances surrounding the issue. Maybe whatever happened was reasonable or justified at the time, but I cannot explain the story to the court if I have no knowledge of it, and I will not know if the opposing attorney’s rendition of the story is an accurate reflection of the events that occurred unless you tell me first.
One of the most prevalent misconceptions among clients is that their personal life and history with old or new partners has no bearing on their current legal battle. This could not be farther from the truth. Your relationships with prior wives, girlfriends, or current partners if you have moved on, will be put under a microscope by an adversary looking for anything that could reflect badly on you. Any record of domestic disputes, violence, drugs, or any other potential negative habits or events are more than relevant, and you can bet that the opposing attorney will come with police reports in hand, ready to offer them up to the court for the Judge’s viewing pleasure, if they don’t subpoena your old flame in person. I have had clients tell me that I was not informed of an old domestic violence charge because it happened so long ago, and they paid for their mistakes so it shouldn’t be a factor. A record of violence or any possible danger is always a factor. If a custody determination is to be made, and a Judge has proof that you have laid a hand on another person, be it a stranger or a former lover, you can guarantee that he will consider it. All is Fair in Love and War
So many people incorrectly think that they can tuck areas of their lives into neat little categories, and that none of them will ever overlap: work life is separate from home life is separate from personal life. Again, this is simply not the case. While I realize that your new girlfriend or ex-convict friend may not really influence your ability to parent a child, when has that ever stopped an attorney from bringing it up and a court from listening to it? Rarely. For example, I am sure politicians don’t see how their sexual affairs have any relation to their legislative skills, they can still get fired for this type of behavior.
Look folks, if you are in a custody or divorce battle, you are probably in the fight of your life. Wouldn’t you do absolutely anything for your child? Of course you would, but so would the other parent, even if it means airing your dirty laundry that may or may not have anything to do with your case. Nothing is off limits when you are fighting for your child, so I need to know about every possible “bullet” the opposing party might try to fire to keep us from getting hit. You don’t have to like it, but you must be prepared for it, and tell me so that I can also prepare for it.
Remember, full disclosure is absolutely essential. Anything less can have a serious, and possibly fatal, impact on your case. With everything to lose, why would you risk it? Swallow your pride, and talk to your attorney, so you don’t end up at the courthouse with a dolly full of pornography and only yourself to blame.
Holly Hearn is an attorney in the Fort Worth office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. practicing exclusively in the area of domestic relations.
Read more about Ms. Hearn.