Understanding when to communicate with your lawyer can save your divorce case time and money.
You know that advice your best friend gave you about writing a scathing note to your ex when you are fuming about something they said or did? They probably advised you to write down everything you want to tell your ex. Get everything out. Say every mean thing you’ve ever wanted to say. Then, when you’re done — delete it. Or send it to yourself. It’s not worth sending it to your ex when you are upset. Pick your battles. Communicate when you’re calm. Anything you say can be used against you when you are going through a divorce. So, be mindful.
Well, it’s sort of the same for when to communicate with your lawyer.
Let’s say you receive a letter from your ex or his or her attorney that contains falsehoods about you or your marriage. And you immediately want your own lawyer to know everything that’s wrong with the letter — every reason why it’s unfair and unjust. You want your lawyer to hear you, to know the whole story, and to know the real you. And you figure the best thing to do is write a letter or email to get it all out, trusting that your lawyer will sort through it and find what is relevant for the case. Your hope is that he or she will see past your rage and truly “hear” why your case is better. Stronger. Worthier.
However, this is exactly what you shouldn’t do.
What do I mean? First of all, lawyers are expensive. Every time you send an email, they charge you for their time. So, take a minute before you compose your magnum opus. You most certainly have important things to say; you are fighting for your life after all. So, please write them down. But pause before you send anything to your lawyer. Ponder what you’ve written. Get clear about what’s important to your case and edit out the unnecessary information.
Lawyers typically have a full caseload. They get a hundred or more emails per day. When you pepper them with correspondence, they can’t keep up. They get overwhelmed and frustrated. The substance is trumped by the noise. They might miss key ideas. Instead, wait until you have their full attention to communicate with your lawyer. Schedule a call or make an appointment. That way your information receives more than a passing glance while they eat lunch, walk from one courtroom to the next, or answer their daughter’s texts. It will only help bolster your case if you know your lawyer has truly heard the most pertinent information.
Angry rants — no matter how passionate they are — aren’t nearly as persuasive as the writer thinks they are. Instead, keep it factual and straight to the point. Here is what your lawyer needs to know:
1. Your must-haves and your goals. What can’t you live without? What do you want your life to look like post-divorce?
2. The true and unannotated version of events. State the facts clearly and plainly and without critical comments about your spouse or the important events in question.
3. The inaccuracies in your spouse’s story (not the part where she or he says you’re a selfish b—- but the part that actually matters). For example, your ex says she put a down payment on the house using an inheritance she received. In reality, you know that she received an inheritance but spent most of it prior to purchasing the home. Share that piece of information when you communicate with your lawyer. Don’t succumb to temptation to talk about how awful your ex is for lying about the down payment. Or, maybe your ex says he sacrificed his career to support your professional endeavors by traveling with you to New York for your year-long fellowship. In actuality, your ex always worked remotely and his employer had no expectation that he would remain in California. This is what your lawyer will want to know.
4. All relevant information, regardless of whether you think it’s damning to your case. So, if your ex reports details about you that you think will hurt your case, don’t panic. That information may be completely irrelevant or easily mitigated. But your lawyer needs to know about it to be better prepared to handle it.
Now that you’ve shared the crucial information with your lawyer, what do you need to know from them?
1. An honest evaluation of your case.
Having a realistic picture of where you are starting from will quell any fanciful expectations you may have up front.
2. Your best case/worst case scenarios.
Knowing the full range of potential outcomes can help keep you from fixating on only one end result, which can lead to massive disappointment.
3. Their strategy.
The strategy he or she will use to get you to resolution in the most streamlined, cost-effective, and favorable way.
4. What else they need from you.
Any additional documents, statements, or other evidence you can gather to best serve your case.
And last, I highly recommend check-in calls. Even if they are just 15 minutes at a time. Regularly schedule them and cancel if you need to, but having them on the calendar will help keep your lawyer – and your case – on track. Lawyers are skilled at what they do, but like any professional, they are fallible. Stay on top of your case until the end because the sooner you can resolve your divorce, the sooner you can move on to the next phase of your life.