This will be a difficult topic. I’ve had this on my list of “blog ideas” for about two years but have frankly lacked the courage to write on this topic – I am afraid I would lose business.
This is important. Many, many clients go to initial interviews with an attorney or three and choose the attorney who tells them what they want to hear. “He’ll never see those kids again.” “You’ll get half of everything he has even though you’ve only been married three years.” “Why should you pay support for your wife of thirty years who’s never worked and who has MS?” “Nah, you don’t have stop drinking/drugs to keep your kids.” And so on.
I think these rash and utterly false promises hurt our clients and hurt our profession’s credibility. Yes, those promises might get the client to sign on with the attorney, and even to keep paying the attorney through years of vicious courtroom fights. Ultimately, those promises fuel battles that deplete the life’s savings and destroy the psyches of the children and clients in question.
A young mom goes to an attorney. She a) wants a divorce and b) wants to excise Dad from her life – she wants zero visitation for dad, and maximum spousal and child support. The problem was she literally had to make up lies and feed them to the Court (through counsel, of course) to come up with a sufficient factual basis for those wants. Had her attorney either balked at submitting false declarations to the Court or advised her that she was going to have to prove up those lies, we could have saved three years of ugly litigation. My client, a good guy, now has more custodial time than she does, she’s getting neither child nor spousal support, and the child is being raised by two people who can’t talk to each other. Why can’t they talk? Because Dad doesn’t trust Mom not to make up more lies; and Mom is furious because she got caught in her lies.
An older man wants to kick his wife of many years to the curb and take the kids (teenagers) out of state, even though Dad has travelled extensively for the past ten years for work, and the kids are primarily bonded with Mom, resent Dad for cheating on their Mom, and love where they live. Dad finds an attorney to launch an incredibly destructive campaign. Five years later, Dad is out of state but the kids (one is now an adult) are here, with my client… The kids won’t speak to or visit Dad at all, and Dad is on the hook for lifetime spousal and adult child support. Had his attorney mentioned to Dad that the law regarding move-always and support was actually not in his favor, the parties could have saved enormous amounts of money, years of time, and the father-child relationships.
A military wife bails out of the family residence on the East Coast, returning to California to “visit” her folks. She wants California spousal support, which is much higher than Virginia spousal support. Neither Wife nor Husband had lived in California for years. Her attorney informed her jurisdiction would be here in California, if Husband “defaulted” by not responding for 30 days… which was not true. She had her military husband served with divorce paperwork, filed in California, while he’s standing on the tarmac waiting to deploy overseas, hoping he’d have no ability to timely respond (thank God for phones and emails). Long story short: We quashed the action here, jurisdiction was established in Virginia over the issues of support and pension division, and now Wife has to travel back and forth to Virginia to litigate, and has to pay Husband’s attorney fees in Virginia to such a high degree she’s essentially coming out of the marriage with nothing. Had her California attorney told her what she needed to hear, instead of what she wanted to hear, she’d have had a simpler divorce which resulted in a net financial gain to her, instead of a net financial loss.
Sometimes the facts of a case, under current law, will support a no-visitation, or a no-support order, or a move-away with the children, or establishing jurisdiction in another state, or any one of dozens of other rather drastic types of orders. But the client needs to know what the client often doesn’t want to know:
What is the Court’s mandate in “ordinary” circumstances?
What circumstances are sufficient to justify the Court’s deviation from that mandate?
What’s the cost of acting?
What’s the cost of NOT acting?
Attorneys are supposed to be counselors, as well as gladiators. We are NOT supposed to be mere mouthpieces or cheerleaders for our clients.