Should I Tell My Divorce Lawyer Everything? (And What Happens if You Don’t)

Wedding rings and wooden gavel

When you are sitting across the table at a divorce lawyer’s office, you may want to be selective about what you say and plead your best case. Keeping secrets from your attorney can come back to haunt you. Find out why you should tell your divorce lawyer everything, even if it makes you look bad.

Divorce Means Emptying All the Skeletons Out of Your Closet

Divorce litigation is deeply personal. Unlike civil lawsuits or contract disputes that involve money, divorce and child custody cases can often delve into all the worst parts of your past. In many cases, your spouse was your confidante and knows things about you no one else does. In other cases, things that happened behind closed doors in your own home can be dragged out into the open as you and your ex-spouse battle over child custody or establish grounds for divorce . The skeletons in your closet may become part of your Maryland divorce if your spouse presents evidence of past misconduct, which might include:

  • Physical abuse, emotional abuse, or cruelty which caused your spouse to abandon the home.
  • Past or present sexual infidelity.
  • Drug, alcohol, or other addictions which may have caused you to overspend, support a claim for alimony or property division, or impact your claims for custody.
  • Mental health diagnosis, behavioral challenges, or criminal record that may affect your ability to care for your children.

Attorney-Client Confidentiality Gives You the Freedom to Tell Your Divorce Lawyer Everything

Every licensed attorney in Maryland must comply with the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct. When it comes to clients’ secrets, those rules say that, with certain exceptions:

“An attorney shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, or the disclosure is permitted by section (b) of this Rule.”

In other words, unless it is part of the case itself, what you say in the lawyer’s office will stay in the lawyer’s office. The exceptions to those rules are:

  • To prevent death or substantial bodily harm
  • To prevent or mitigate the consequences resulting from the client committing a future crime
  • In seeking assistance from other attorneys on how to comply with the rules or court orders
  • In cases where the client has sued the attorney.

That means when you sit down with a divorce lawyer, you can feel secure knowing that your secrets are safe with your attorney. This is true even if you tell your lawyer you committed a crime in the past, hit your spouse in an unreported incident of domestic violence, or have a drug or alcohol addiction.

What Happens if You Keep Secrets from Your Divorce Attorney

Even with the promise of confidentiality, many people are hesitant to come forward and tell their divorce lawyer everything. But keeping secrets from your divorce attorney as you prepare your case together could cause big problems later when the skeletons get dragged out of the closet.

Hidden Assets Can Cost More in the End

Often a person worried about his or her nest egg will try to hide assets to keep the court from awarding it to his or her spouse. She may give gifts or cash to relatives before filing the divorce paperwork, or he might transfer assets into new bank accounts held only in his name.

Maryland divorce lawyers know how to track down those hidden assets using discovery, subpoenas, depositions, and forensic accountants. All of these tactics can drastically increase your divorce attorney fees, which could force you to spend those hidden assets in defending your case. If your spouse’s attorney is forced to employ these tactics to discover information about assets that should have otherwise been disclosed, it can also damage your credibility with the Court.

Untreated Mental Health or Substance Abuse Can be Worse for Children

Sometimes, parents will try to hide ongoing psychological conditions or substance addiction out of fear that these diagnoses will hurt their case for child custody. They may go off their medications or cancel their therapy appointments. They may smuggle drugs or alcohol into the home or deny that they are dependent on a controlled substance.

However, well-treated psychological conditions aren’t themselves a reason for a court to deny custody. It is when a person’s mental or physical health concerns interfere with their parental fitness and ability to provide care that the court will look at their conditions with more scrutiny. Often, it is better to admit a psychological diagnosis and demonstrate ongoing treatment than to hide a condition only for it to come out later on. If you don’t share complete information with your attorney from the onset, then your attorney may not be prepared to insulate you from the negative impact of any such claims.

Secrets Exposed at Trial Leave No Time to Prepare a Defense

No matter what the secret issue is, keeping secrets from your divorce lawyer is the worst thing you can do for your case. Since many divorces resolve in settlement, rather than trial, the skeletons in your closet may never see the light of a courtroom. Often, people will decide to roll the dice and keep their secrets in the hopes that settlement will avoid the pain of having to admit to their faults. Sometimes these secrets are the very thing that prevent a case from settling.

When a secret does come out at trial or late in the case, it leaves you and your divorce attorney with no time to prepare a defense. Experienced divorce lawyers have dealt with issues of adultery, drug use, and domestic violence. They know how to develop trial strategies that reduce the harm and put the issues in their proper context for the judge. This is where attorney-client confidentiality becomes so important. By opening the closet and going through the skeletons in the safety of your attorney’s office, you can make a plan for what to do if those secrets come to light.

At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our divorce attorneys know what to do with bad news. When the secrets of your past might work against you in your divorce action, we can assist you to develop a confidential defense for court and a strategy for your future. Contact us today to schedule a confidential office consultation.

Categories: Custody, Divorce