Should I Just Tell My Lawyer What He or She Really Needs to Know?

Divorce cases involve some of the most personal and important aspects of a person’s life. Information regarding your spouse, your children, your money, and your job are all very personal. It is only human nature to want to keep private as much information about one’s personal life as possible. It can also be embarrassing to reveal very private and personal information to a third-party, even if that person is your lawyer.

The above is compounded where there may be behavior which is highly embarrassing, very private and which you do not want to reveal to others, particularly your spouse as you are going through a divorce. This can make you want to consider whether you really need to disclose all the potentially embarrassing, harmful or even financially detrimental information.

Despite this fact, it is critical you tell your lawyer everything. Oftentimes the failure to reveal certain types of information is more damaging than revealing the underlying facts or information. The old saying “the cover-up is worse than the crime,” is often true. By not revealing certain facts, you may actually be hurting your case, and even making relevant information that might not otherwise be relevant become so.

Your lawyer will create a strategy based upon the facts as they exist. Failing to tell your lawyer facts, however embarrassing or financially damaging you believe they might be, can result in your lawyer preparing your case in such a way that will be flawed, and potentially even more damaging to you if the lawyer does not have the actual facts to work with in developing a legal strategy for you. If the entire premise on which the lawyer is building your strategy is not based on the complete truth, the legal foundation of your case is flawed to start out with and this can have extremely negative and damaging repercussions on your entire divorce – all because the lawyer did not know facts because you did not provide them.

The questions that may be asked in discovery in a divorce are much more broad than those which are relevant at trial. This means the other side may inquire into a number of issues during the discovery process which could potentially lead to relevant evidence at trial. The facts being asked about, however, may not be relevant at trial if they are accurately provided to the other side.

On the other hand, being deceptive about facts that would otherwise not be relevant at trial may make those facts relevant at trial because of the deception. This means not telling the truth about behavior, finances, etc. makes the subject matter relevant at trial even if that subject matter would not have been relevant to start out with.

In addition, the judge who makes all the decisions regarding property, finances, child custody and visitation must make a credibility assessment about the parties to a lawsuit. Oftentimes in divorces there are a number of issues where one spouse sees things one way and the other sees them in another. The judge must decide which spouse to believe and which way to rule based on the issues presented. If one spouse has been dishonest about any element of the divorce, the judge can choose to not believe them about everything else, finding that they are not a credible witness.

An example of this concerns adultery. In Tennessee, adultery is a ground for divorce. If one admits adultery then it can make a number of questions regarding the facts surrounding the adultery no longer relevant to the lawsuit. However, if one denies an adulterous relationship that denial makes all the inquiries about the facts concerning the adultery relevant. This means a number of facts and details that could not have been asked about had the adultery been admitted now become relevant and fertile areas of inquiry for the other side. In addition, the other side will be able to argue that they had to spend additional time – and attorneys’ fees – in proving the adultery. This can mean the person who was dishonest about the adultery might have to pay many thousands – or even tens of thousands of dollars – to the other side for their attorneys’ fees in proving the adultery. Further the person who is dishonest about the adultery is now not believable to the court thereby damaging the rest of his or her case.

Letting your lawyer know all of the facts is critical, therefore, in your lawyer’s ability to evaluate your case and develop the most effective strategy for you. Failing to reveal everything to your lawyer can be a very costly mistake. Doing so can make facts relevant at trial which would otherwise not be so. It can highlight a mistake, unfortunate behavior and issues that could be otherwise diminished by a more appropriate strategy. It may also result in losing the most valuable asset any litigant can have with the judge – credibility regarding all of the issues in your case.

Arming your lawyers with all of the information and all the facts, therefore, is always the best course of action.

About the Author:

Stuart Scott is a litigation attorney with over 25 years of experience. He has tried hundreds of cases in both state and federal court. Some of his noteworthy victories have been featured in local, state and national publications. Stuart is also listed as a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 Family Law Mediator. Stuart focuses his primary area of practice on family law. He represents people going through divorce and focuses his efforts on providing his legal services and advice to his clients in this area. Mr. Scott may be reached in our Nashville office at 615-620-1710.