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No matter how minor the lie, no matter how noble the reason, and no matter how good your New York City divorce lawyer is, there are always consequences to dishonesty. Before you roll your eyes at what you might consider a hyper-technical, black-and-white mantra, consider how being honest with your lawyer—and yourself—lays the foundation for keeping your finances in order, your integrity intact, and a positive sense of well-being. Painful as a New York divorce is, it is possible to emerge on the other side a happier, healthier, and more satisfied individual. Being open and honest with your lawyer, the judge, and even your ex-spouse is the first step in maximizing your chances of emerging from your divorce unscathed and with fair results.
Going through a divorce in New York state is probably new territory for you, so it is perfectly understandable how you might resist disclosing certain details of your backstory. However, failure to disclose important information to your divorce lawyer can damage your case. Every divorce case is different, with many moving parts. So, trust your attorney and tell him/her everything. The bottom line is this: if your attorney does not know the facts, the advice and strategy he/she puts together for you is going to be flawed and unsuccessful. What you should understand from a strategic point of view is that your lawyer needs to know what to expect from the other side in order to properly protect and counsel you.
Here are some steps to guide you in the right direction.
Choose the right divorce lawyer for you.
If divorce is imminent—or if you are even considering a divorce—you should meet with a lawyer immediately. A divorce lawyer can educate you on your options and help you decide how to best protect your interests and meet your goals. Whether you ultimately engage in litigation, mediation, or collaborative divorce, your attorney will be your advocate during what may be one of the most stressful, confusing experiences of your life.
How do you locate the perfect divorce lawyer? Talk to trusted friends who have navigated the process. Don’t limit your search geographically or rely purely on lawyer advertisements. Read online reviews of each lawyer you consider. Look into local advertisements, legal aid agencies, prepaid legal services plans, and your local bar association. Make the effort to locate a lawyer that is right for you and your case.
Meet your lawyer for an initial consultation.
An initial consultation allows you to get to know your new lawyer, but equally important is your lawyer getting to know you. Be organized and honest so that your lawyer can paint an accurate picture of how your divorce will affect you and your family. Your initial meeting is your first and best chance to establish credibility with your lawyer, which will help you down the line.
Having to disclose personal details can feel intrusive and intimate—particularly when speaking with a practical stranger. There is an expectedly wide array of personal details you might not want anyone to learn, whether it’s a less-than-flattering financial situation, controversial parenting methods, or an adulterous affair, but if your lawyer is in the dark, it can be devastating to both your case and your relationship.
Not only will dishonesty or restraint prevent you from getting an accurate assessment of your case, but it will also diminish the mutual respect you should be fostering between you and your attorney. Your lawyer may even withdraw from representation upon learning that you were less than honest.
It is difficult to know how much detail you should go into with your lawyer at first. Keep in mind that there is no harm in oversharing with your own divorce lawyer, even during the initial consultation. As you further delve into the details of your divorce, the minutiae of your finances, and the particulars of your relationship, honesty and accuracy are essential. You lawyer needs to know what your case entails, its level of complexity, and any possible impending complications. If you cannot bring yourself to be candid with your lawyer, that may be a sign that he/she is not a good fit for you.
Identify and disclose marital assets and debts.
One of the primary steps in any divorce process is to openly and honestly disclose all assets and debts, located in NY state or elsewhere. This includes all accounts on which your name appears and any type of benefit you might be receiving.
Failure to disclose assets will cause you to lose credibility with your lawyer and your judge, and can even result in sanctions. While you may have legitimate reasons for wanting to keep certain assets to yourself, you must always disclose every asset and debt to your advocate for strategizing purposes. To negotiate a fair settlement, your lawyer must have all relevant information to evaluate your options and interests. Tell your lawyer how you wish your assets to be divided. Allow your lawyer to attain the most advantageous result for you.
Disclosing debts can feel intrusive, but identifying debt is important for purposes of dividing it during divorce negotiations. If you fail to disclose a debt or financial obligation, you could be stuck with it when the dust settles. This could be an expensive problem for you in the future.
You should also tell your lawyer if you suspect your ex-spouse will try to hide assets or in any way prevent you from obtaining the fair settlement to which you are entitled. Share your fears with your attorney if you suspect your ex-spouse might be employing deceptive strategies. You and your spouse must swear that the contents of your financial statements are true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief. Your lawyer might need to remind your former spouse of the penalties of perjury.
Own up to mistakes.
You might think it’s too late to come clean with your lawyer or the court in certain matters. While disclosing all assets and debts is a legal requirement, it’s hard to resist the temptation to bend the truth in order to keep some assets to yourself, especially when you deserve them more than your soon-to-be-ex-spouse. Let your lawyer know immediately if you were anything less than honest on your financial statement. Tell your lawyer if you reported a diminished income, exaggerated debts, attempted to undervalue certain marital property, or listed inflated expenses.
Even if you never had a deceitful thought run through your mind, your spouse’s lawyer may use mistakes or inaccuracies in your financial statement to make you appear dishonest. If you realize a mistake, tell your attorney immediately so that you can make the proper revisions.
Do not worry about whether your lawyer is going to judge you or divulge your secrets.
Do not fear being judged—remember that your attorney is on your side. Also keep in mind that your attorney has heard it all. It is perfectly natural to be reluctant to disclose certain facts about your personal life. The issues that arise in divorce are often uncomfortable to talk about.
If you still have doubts, a good principle by which to operate is to disclose anything to your attorney that might come out during divorce negotiations. You may not know whether certain conduct should be disclosed to your lawyer—especially is it is of a damaging nature. You might think it irrelevant to any issue. However, particularly if you have children, your spouse will be tempted to bring it up to gain an advantageous arrangement. No fact or conduct is so outrageous that your attorney cannot devise a good approach.
When it comes to keeping secrets, your lawyer is a trusted ally and confidant. Due to attorney-client privilege, your attorney cannot ethically or legally reveal any information that you shared in confidence. So, unless you are trying to use your lawyer’s service to cover up a crime (an exception to your confidential relationship), your secrets are safe.
Divorce is an emotionally taxing matter and the last thing you need to fret about it your attorney thinking poorly of you or abusing your trust. Remember that you have come to your attorney for help in getting through this process. Help your lawyer help you. Frankly, you have much more important things on your plate than worrying about being judged or outed.
Tell your New York divorce lawyer everything, and ASAP.
Complete and prompt disclosure will maximize the effectiveness of your lawyer’s representation and enhance your chances of success. You can ask your lawyer what he/she needs to know, but without a thorough knowledge of your relationship and finances, your lawyer might not even know what he/she needs to know, you know? If you are unsure about whether or not something is important, ask your attorney. You can discuss how the information can be presented and whether it should be shared in the first place.
Be as forthcoming with your lawyer as possible, and as soon as possible. Your attorney needs to know all the facts upfront to best prepare your case and defend from your former spouse’s case. Blindsiding your attorney will deprive him/her from having been able to take a different, more effective strategic approach in your case. Work with your attorney in developing the best approach at any phase of your case.
You might think you are openly discussing all relevant facts, but you are consumed in a life-changing event. You may not be emotionally—or experientially—equipped to decide what is and is not relevant to your case. You employed someone to help make those decisions. Let your attorney do his/her job.
Nothing good can come from being untruthful with your attorney (or yourself) at any phase of the divorce process. Being honest and candid is an essential component of your case throughout the process. If anything, you will emerge having maintained your dignity and pride, which will afford you a fresh start in your new life.