Going through a divorce, the chances are pretty high that you will have to work with an attorney at one point or another. If your spouse hires counsel, it is prudent to seek your own to level the playing field, which introduces a new relationship that the average person likely has little experience with — that which exists between the attorney and the client. It may seem obvious, but developing a healthy relationship with your attorney and knowing how interact with your spouse’s lawyer will make your divorce go much smoother.
Interacting with your own attorney
During your case, the attorney-client relationship and maintaining continuous communication is extremely important. Your attorney is your liaison to the court, opposing counsel and possible expert or lay witnesses in your case. There are several things to keep in mind when working with your attorney to maximize the productivity of your attorney-client relationship:
How to communicate
Clear, concise communication will help you and your attorney stay on the same page as you move through your case proceedings. Email communication is an easy way to keep track of the topics you two have covered. You or your attorney should send follow-up emails after any verbal substantive conversation, summarizing the discussion and making sure you are both in agreement regarding how to move forward, or what the considerations are for your next steps. Sending 10 separate emails per day is going to be less efficient and more confusing than sending a single long email covering all of your questions and concerns.
How often to communicate
Generally speaking, you and your attorney will communicate fairly regularly. Some clients are in contact every day, and some every 2 weeks or so, but the nature of your case will somewhat dictate how often you two will be in touch. A more complex or high-conflict case usually demands more frequent communication with your attorney. If something comes up and you need assistance or have a question, contact your attorney to discuss it. As time goes by, you will get an understanding of what issues your attorney can help you address, and what issues you and your ex may need to try to resolve yourselves — if that is possible.
The trust you build with your attorney will help you both proceed through your case effectively. If issues arise, you need to feel comfortable contacting your attorney about them — even if you were in the wrong. Similarly, your attorney needs to be able to trust that you will respect his or her legal advice and constructive feedback on any legal situation. Mutual respect and clear communication will help with this immensely. Your attorney is there to assist you through what is surely to be an emotional and frustrating event in your life, and your attorney will be best equipped to do this if you two can engage in honest, respectful communications with each other. Your attorney wants to advocate effectively for you and your goals, so keep this in mind even when case events don’t necessarily go the way you wish they would.
Interacting with the opposing attorney
During your case, you may also have contact with your ex’s attorney at settlement conferences, mediations or hearings. Other than these case events when your counsel is also present, opposing counsel in many jurisdictions cannot communicate with you directly if you are represented by an attorney. Thus, you won’t be fielding phone calls or emails directly from your ex’s attorney unless you are not represented. That being said, it’s important to keep a few items in mind when you do have to interact with the opposing counsel:
Be respectful in your responses
A judge won’t appreciate your sass or snarky responses to opposing attorneys during testimony, and the ability to keep cool under pressure can help the judge’s view of you as a parent and a rational individual.
Don’t get too friendly
You want to be respectful, but don’t feel like you need to provide an incredibly detailed, drawn out response to his or her questions. Many people on the stand have dug themselves a hole by rambling on at length in response to a general inquiry.
Get your own attorney’s advice
At mediations or settlement conferences, don’t be afraid to ask to speak to your attorney before providing a response. Your counsel is there to provide you with guidance if you are uncomfortable with the question or are unsure of the information you should provide. If you are responding directly to a settlement proposal, you may want to talk to your attorney before responding so that you don’t accidentally give up too much negotiation ground.
Overall, your attorney will help to guide you through any interactions with the opposing counsel, so your relationship with your attorney and the trust you build can greatly assist you in those situations as well. The attorney-client relationship in family law cases provides a foundation for the tenor of your case, and working with your attorney to develop a trusting rapport can better help you achieve your overall goals.
Leslie Lorenzano is an Indiana family law attorney with the firm Cordell & Cordell. She holds degrees from Purdue University and the University of Arizona Rogers College of Law. She is licensed in Indiana and also practices in the US District Court Southern Indiana District. She is a member of the Indiana Bar and the ISBA Young Lawyers Section.
Ms. Larenzano has worked extensively with custody law and is a frequent contributor in child-related issues for DadsDivorce.com.