Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. Kofi Annan
In litigation, there really is no such thing as too much information. Both for the client, as the consumer of legal services and for the attorney working to guide the client through the difficult and unfamiliar landscape of our legal system. Nowhere is that more true than in family law litigation. Our clients rarely have much — if any — experience with the legal system. Take that lack of experience and add the overwhelming emotional trauma of divorce or child custody issues, the financial stress on the family inherent in the new family reality and the cost of litigation and what results is a perfect storm of stress and uncertainty.
Is it any wonder that clients turn to the internet, well-meaning friends and family for information and guidance?
Family law attorneys often spend much of their face time with clients clearing up misinformation gleaned from the web or from third parties trying desperately to buoy a friend’s spirits with not-entirely-accurate tales from their own divorce. While there is certainly nothing wrong with the support of friends and family, try not to believe everything you hear. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
There are many reasons information from third party sources may be inaccurate. The law varies from state to state. Procedure can vary from county to county. Every judge is different, every case is different and every child is unique. Your friends and family want to give you encouragement so they tell you what they think you want to hear. Worse yet, people will often dramatize their own divorces or don’t want to tell the entire story.
Misinformation can be worrisome at best. At worst, it is incredibly destructive. Expectations are created, often unattainable and unchangeable. Anger or resentment often rises when an ex-spouse refuses to do what my friend’s uncle’s brother did for his ex.
So where do you go to get good information about what you can expect? Why, your attorney, silly. And within the context of that relationship, there is no such thing as too much information. There are no stupid questions.
Every good family law attorney should strive to inform his or her client to the fullest extent possible about what to expect through the litigation process, procedurally, financially, emotionally and otherwise. Clients need to be prepared for the decisions they will need to make, the choices they will have to face and the consequences that will result from those various paths.
In short, the cure for misinformation is good information. And lots of it. That includes not only providing data when asked, but knowing when the client needs information he/she has not asked for. We provide informational letters at various stages of the process to ensure our clients have appropriate information –even when they haven’t asked for it. We ensure that the entire staff is up to date on every case so that basic questions can be answered quickly and efficiently. Ensuring that the client has ready access to data, case events and documentation is one of our primary goals.
But the provision of information is a two-way street. Your attorney cannot properly advise you without all of the pertinent information. That means that you need to be open and honest — not always the easiest thing to do when dealing with the sensitive landscape of family issues. You need to feel comfortable divulging the good, the bad and the ugly truth because you can be assured that your ex is telling his attorney about it. And there is nothing worse than your attorney discovering a bad fact in the middle of a hearing or other proceeding.
What I love about family law is the diversity of the scope of my work. Helping people through family transitions in the healthiest way possible is what I strive to do with every case. Developing trust with my clients so that they feel comfortable providing as much information as I need is a key factor in a successful outcome. Providing the information that my clients need is key to developing that trust and making the litigation process tolerable.