Whether you are seeking advice in relation to custody, divorce, financial matters or a DVO – separation with a partner/spouse is often the first time you will consult with a lawyer. Separation is a time that can be marked with confusion, uncertainty, anger, fear and stress. The issues of your divorce are deeply personal. When you are sitting across from your divorce lawyer, you may want to be selective about what you say to them. You should tell your divorce lawyer everything. Keeping secrets from your divorce lawyer can make the process more difficult and it often ends up hurting your case.
Before you decide to withhold information from your divorce lawyer, make sure you know how failing to tell the truth can harm your case, and your future, in the long run.
Why does your divorce lawyer need to know everything?
Most people want to finalise their separation and divorce with their integrity intact, their finances in order, a workable custody agreement in place and a positive sense of emotional wellbeing.
Family Court is deeply personal. Unlike civil disputes, financial and child custody cases often delve into the worst parts of your past. In many cases, your spouse knows things no one else does. Things that happened behind closed doors can often be dragged out into the open as you and your ex battle over child custody and division of your assets.
We tell our clients that in order to advance their case in the most positive way, we need to know “the good, the bad and the ugly”. Sometimes the truth hurts, but, it is vitally important to be honest with your lawyer in order to maintain your integrity in court and to maximise the prospects of achieving the best possible outcome in your case.
What type of information should you share?
The skeletons in your closet that may be dragged out in family court include:
- Physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, threats or coercive and controlling behaviour;
- sexual infidelity;
- child neglect;
- Drug, alcohol or other addictions
- Mental health issues, behavioural changes or a criminal record
- financial dishonesty
Sexual infidelity is not relevant for the purposes of a divorce, given Australia has a no fault divorce system.
However, all the other factors above can affect property division and child custody.
While it may be uncomfortable to talk about such things, remember it is in your benefit for your lawyer to know about everything relevant to your case.
What happens if you keep secrets from your divorce lawyer?
It’s all about being prepared. You are trusting your case in the hands of your divorce lawyer and they are using the information you give them to establish a firm, effective strategy to deliver you the best possible outcome in your case. However, if your divorce lawyer is kept in the dark, we could be blindsided in court or during mediation, making your existing legal strategy less effective and putting your case in jeopardy.
Everything your divorce lawyer does is based on the information you choose to share. They cannot prepare for what they don’t know.
For example, if you were abusive towards a partner during your relationship and you deny that you were, your divorce lawyer can’t advise you about the steps you can take to minimise the harm to your case including your ability to spend time with your children. If your spouse presents evidence in court about the domestic violence and you have denied it, that will also affect your credibility.
Sometimes parents will try and hide their psychological conditions out of fear it will affect child custody. They may go off their medications or cancel appointments.
However, a well treated psychological condition is not a reason for a court to deny child custody. It is only when a person’s medical or physical health concerns interfere with their parenting capacity that the court will look at their condition with more scrutiny. It is always better to admit a psychological condition and demonstrate ongoing treatment than to hide the condition only for it to come out later on. If you deny that you have mental health issues and your spouse presents evidence to the affect that you have a diagnosed mental illness that will undermine your divorce lawyer’s argument that you are a capable parent and your divorce lawyer may not be able to insulate you from the negative impact of such claims.
Frequently, parents will also hide an ongoing substance addiction out of fear it will affect their child custody case. If you tell your lawyer you are not using drugs when you are using drugs, your divorce lawyer can’t advise you about the steps you can take to manage your addiction, prove to the court when you are clean and minimise any harm to your case. If the court orders that you undertake a drug test when you have deposed that you don’t do drugs, that will have a negative impact on your credibility and your child custody case.
If, however, you had told your divorce lawyer about it from the beginning, they could have provided you more effective advice and changed the legal strategy to increase the prospects of a positive outcome in your case.
Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the ugly truth to your divorce lawyer
If you aren’t sure what you should share and what you shouldn’t share with your divorce lawyer, ask them what they need to know. Take comfort in the fact that they have experience dealing with similar situations and are well equipped to keep your information private. Remember, you are both working towards the same goal – securing you the best possible outcome for you and your family. By being honest with your lawyer, you are arming them with the information they need to help your case succeed.
For more information on this topic, check out our video on What Happens if you are not honest with your lawyer.
If you have recently separated, getting advice promptly after separation about the skeletons in your closet will minimise any possible harm to your case. Contact us on 3465 9332 to book a reduced rate consultation and have a confidential discussion with one of our family law specialists in relation to your individual circumstances.