Family law- Don’t lie to your Attorney!

The jurors gaze disapprovingly at the Defendant, while the prosecutor sits back in his chair, reclining slightly away from the table in front of him while a satisfied grin plays across his face. It looks like there is no hope for the innocent Defendant who stares downcast at his hands folded neatly in his lap. But wait! Just as the Judge is about to release the jurors for deliberation someone rushes into the court room and hands defense counsel a new piece of evidence that proves the Defendant’s innocence. As the evidence is presented to the court there are oohs and aahs from the spectators and the Defendant is set free.

While the scenario I just described makes for some great television the likelihood of anything like it happening in an actual courtroom are slim to none because of those pesky Massachusetts Rules of Evidence.

I have, however, been in Probate and Family Court on a hearing for temporary orders and had the reverse happen to me. Recently I went to court with a client on very short notice for a temporary orders hearing to oppose allowing the father visitation with the child. The mother told me that she had been granted a restraining order against her son’s father because he physically abused her. She even sent me the papers showing the granting of the restraining order. I went to court thinking that the law was clearly on my side and we were going to win the argument. I told the court that because of the father’s violent tendencies he should not be given unsupervised visitation with the child.

I thought it was a pretty straight forward case until opposing counsel produced an order showing that the restraining order had been vacated because my client had lied to get it in the first place. Needless to say we did not win that motion hearing.

Every lawyer I know has a “this happened when my client lied/omitted” story. They make for great stories, but they make for terrible court results and are embarrassing to both the client and the attorney.

The effects of these lies and/or omissions are amplified in family court because you will have the same judge throughout the case and once you destroy your credibility it’s hard to get it back. You might feel compelled to settle for less than you want/deserve because if your case goes to trial that same judge will be hearing evidence and will be the one determining whether your testimony is truthful and reliable.

It’s normal to not want to tell someone you just met your deepest darkest secrets or avoid telling them something that might make you look bad, but the attorney – client relationship is not like the other relationships you have in your life. Your attorney is bound by strict rules of confidentiality to not repeat anything you tell them without your express permission. I can also tell you from experience that most attorneys won’t be shocked or judge you based on what you disclose. No matter how bad you think it is the chances are we have heard worse, and we need that information to formulate the best legal strategy possible.