One of the critical subjects to your success in a Texas family law case is to have an open and honest relationship with your attorney. Every relationship in your life is built on honesty. Without honesty, you and the other person would be unable to agree on much of anything. You would have no ability to share openly with one another important aspects of your lives. This is not as important for your relationship with the person who sells your coffee in the morning. However, it is essential to have important relationships like what you speak to share with your spouse.
Trust is often at the core of every issue that you have in your marriage. For example, if you have problems trusting your money, you will likely never succeed financially as a team with your spouse. Being on the same page when it comes to budgeting, saving for retirement, investing, running your household, and combining your incomes are difficult goals to achieve or even conceive of when you and your spouse are not on the same page when it comes to your finances.
This problem becomes even more acute when you consider that spouses who disagree on financial issues due to lack of trust oftentimes find themselves engaging in behavior that sabotages their marriage. For example, many spouses engage in what they consider trivial behavior like going shopping and hiding the purchases under the bed so that their spouse does not know. We can analyze this kind of behavior, but we see a lack of trust regarding finances as being incredibly important at its core. Throw into this equation the ease of spending on places like Amazon, and it is truly a problem that can get out of hand quickly for many families.
Additionally, let’s consider how trust can help a marriage when it comes to infidelity. Aside from the other issues associated with infidelity, infidelity is often a trust and respect issue more than anything else. If you trust your spouse, then they must have given you a reason to. I think trust and respect are tied together in that regard. People who have trust and respect for their spouse or less likely to engage in affairs and another kind of behavior that would put that trust and respect in doubt. With that said, we can consider the role that tres plays before divorce, but once the divorce begins, you shift more towards a business relationship with your spouse and hopes they’re doing whatever it takes to take it out of the case in one piece.
Having a trusting relationship with your attorney is important. Being able to discuss openly and honestly all aspects of your case with your lawyer is incredibly important to the overall success of your case and the future of your family. With that said, we want to make sure that you know as you head into a divorce or child custody case about the nature of a relationship between an attorney and their client. By the same token, we can discuss building a relationship based on trust with your attorney and what can happen if trust in your attorney pays last overtime.
One of the ways that you can begin your relationship with your attorney on an honest note is 2 commits yourself before you even hired a lawyer that you are going to do everything possible to be completely forthright with your attorney. Family law cases are known to be especially difficult and full of circumstances that you and your family may not be the proudest of. Sometimes we would do anything it takes to prevent that information from coming to the light of day and being made known to one another. However, I can tell you that the information you do not share with your attorney can often come back to haunt you later in a case.
An example of when client honesty could have made a huge difference
Years ago, I was representing a client on behalf of our office in a child custody case. Our client was a young man who lived here in the Houston area. He had children with a woman he was never married to, but he and the children’s mother never argued over custody and did their best to share time with the kids on a fairly even schedule. This arrangement worked very well for everyone involved. Both parents got to see their kids with regularity. Both parents trusted one another to follow their word and be honest with one another when displaying trust. It takes to raise two children in two separate households.
However, that began to change after our clients’ parents got into a relationship with a man who lived outside of Atlanta, GA. At that point, our client was willing to allow the children an extra few days to stay with their mother, or they visited her boyfriend in Atlanta. The catch was that the mother planned to live in Atlanta full time but did not tell our client that. What our client did next was going to Atlanta and asked to see the children for the afternoon. The mother agreed, and our client took the children back to Texas with him.
Bear in mind that our client did not share capacity on a formal basis with this woman. Rather, they had agreed to be civil with one another and shared custody based on a mutual understanding. There was no formal court order or anything close to it. Both parties had said that they did not want to go to court at any point over the children. However, all of that changed when the children whose mother decided to move to Atlanta without consulting our client permanently. Our client taking the children back to Texas with him without telling the mother was a step towards going to court.
And that should pretty well set the scene for this case; once our client made it back to Texas with the kids, he knew that his actions would spur some degree of a legal case. With that said, he decided to contact our office and speak with us about representing him. Our attorneys are extremely diligent when we take on a new client. We do our best to learn as much about the client to serve them and their family better. Part of that is asking questions about the family situation of the potential client and their Co-parent.
When we asked this potential client about his living situation, he said he lived with family north of Houston. No additional inquiries were made about the type of family or anything like that. He was a young man, so we assumed that these were parents that he was living with as he was trying to establish a career for himself and eventually move out on his own. What we came to find out about that living situation shifted the path of his case a great deal.
He decided to hire our office and proceed with the child custody case in his home county. The goal was to establish that he was the primary conservator of the children and to get court orders in place that would allow him to keep the children in Texas and prevent the children’s mother from leaving to take the children to live beyond a certain geographic area. This is a fairly common type of child custody case and one that is attorneys represent clients on a great deal here in Southeast Texas.
Throughout the filing process of the case, our client was sure that his Co-parent would not appear for a hearing. This is important because the judge could not turn over custody to a parent who had not appeared for a hearing and would likely, if she temporary orders, allow our client to maintain custody of the children, at least for the time being. This is a big advantage because our client could have theoretically enrolled the children in school and gotten them re-acclimated to their community after being away for a short period. After a child custody case, the judge would be unlikely to upset the children’s living arrangements. Therefore, our client would be in pole position to remain as primary conservator.
This was the backdrop of our cases as we head into court on the morning of the temporary orders hearing. Because we did not receive an answer to our petition and did not have an opportunity to negotiate the case in mediation, the temporary orders hearing would be the first opportunity the parties would have to attempt to settle outside of court. However, because our client was sure that his Co-parent would not show up for the hearing, and we had never received a filing into the case responding to our petition, we had every reason to expect that the woman would not be present for her hearing.
However, as I’m sure you could have guessed by this point, the children’s mother did come for the hearing. Only that came up to even hired an attorney and came prepared with filings record. If that wasn’t enough, the children’s mother came with information that could potentially change the case’s trajectory. At this point, I was extremely interested in what this woman had to say and how her attorney would explain it to me. Again, we had no opportunity to speak before the hearing because I imagine that she had hired this attorney the afternoon before this hearing. What the lawyer told me would change the course of that hearing and could have made a huge difference in the case as a whole.
How a trip to court becomes more stressful when you are not honest with your attorney
The morning of this child custody hearing felt like any other until the opposing attorney walked up to me to introduce himself. Now, normally an interaction like this is pretty straightforward, with the lawyer wanting to speak before a hearing to determine whether or not a settlement can be reached. That lawyer called me aside from the client to talk to me about something the next thing I knew. I expected this conversation to be about typical negotiating factors, in this case, whether or not his client was going to be returning to Texas to live. However, what the conversation was going to be about was something quite different.
Specifically, the opposing attorney had found out from his client that my client had been telling the truth when he said he was living with family. However, he had neglected to tell me that one of those relatives he was living with was his uncle. This in and of itself was not shocking or damaging to his case. However, what was shocking and damaging was that his uncle is a convicted sex offender. This was a fact that our client had 1/2 sweep under the rug out of embarrassment, concern or some combination of the two. I don’t blame him for feeling that way, but the result was that his attorney was left in a bad position due to him not sharing that information with me.
I went and spoke to our client, and he was apologetic and said that the idea to tell me didn’t seem all that important. I spoke to him candidly and honestly that a judge in a family court is unlikely to award him primary custody when his primary residence also includes a convicted sex offender. I could see the gears turning in his mind as his realization came to the forefront. At that point, we had to engage in some degree of damage control. Gone were our aspirations to have primary custody at this time. However, we negotiated and put in a geographic restriction where mom had to return to Texas and live within a certain number of miles from our client’s house.
What does all this mean? Well, the first thing it should tell you is that honesty is always the best policy. Maybe it was an honest mistake that he did not tell us about his uncle living with him. Maybe our office should have dug down as deep as possible when it came to finding out information about who he was living with. With that said, this was a mistake that could have cost him dearly in his family law case.
I could have cost him dearly because of the way the case ended up; he managed to win primary custody for several reasons that aren’t especially relevant to today’s blog post. Essentially, he got lucky. However, establishing primary custody at the beginning of a child custody case is very important if you want to maintain those rights after the case ends. He did not position himself well in his case in part because he was not fully candid with us. The bottom line is that you need to be honest with your attorney to achieve great success with the case.
By the same token, I did my best, to be honest with him about his chances 2 achieve his goals and my thoughts on different subjects throughout the case. These were not always pleasant opinions to share or ones that were to make sure he was happy. But I am fond of telling clients: sometimes I need to tell you information like eating your vegetables. Meaning I can’t always give the answers that people want to hear. Clients need honesty for me, just like you need honesty from your attorney.
It is important to be able to develop a strong level of trust with your lawyer. If you feel that you cannot do so, then you should make that determination as early as you can in the case and then decide to hire a different attorney if necessary. That does not mean they need to constantly judge the attorney in terms of their willingness to accept you or take on information from you, but you do need to be a good judge of character when it comes to hiring your lawyer. If you can decide that you trust your attorney to put yourself in a position to be trustworthy, you can achieve great things in your family law case.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
if you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog posts. Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law and how your family may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.