There's a saying that criminal lawyers defend bad people showing their best behavior, and family law attorneys defend good people showing their worst behavior. There's no doubt that cases involving divorce and custody cut to the heart of vital human relationships and cause emotions to roller coaster. Then the ride gets super nuts with the added risk and fear resulting from arguments over alimony and child support. The most normal, gentle people may begin to panic about the very different ways their future lives may look after a furious legal battle.
It's important to understand your attorney's role in your divorce journey.
As you work through any feelings of abandonment, anger, fear, and sorrow resulting from your divorce, it's a good idea to seek an outlet for your emotions by using the services of a competent therapist. Your family law attorney may empathize with your situation, but they are only hired to provide vital legal assistance, not to babysit you or listen to your tantrums.
Attorneys are not therapists, marriage counselors, or bodyguards. They are not insurance agents, law enforcement officers, or suicide hot line volunteers. They can't do anything about your day-to-day squabbles or your depression.
Call someone else first for these emergencies:
- Physical bodily harm or property damage from strangers--your first call must be made to your local emergency services. Your attorney cannot dispatch cop cars or ambulances to your location. Contact your insurance agent after getting a police report in the case of property damage caused by malice, accident, or negligence.
- If you feel suicidal—call your therapist, physician, local ER or suicide hot line immediately.
- Restraining order violation—if someone contacts you when they are prohibited from doing so by a restraining order or order of protection, call law enforcement first for your safety, then alert your attorney after you are in a secure place.
Call your attorney as soon as possible for these emergencies:
- If you are arrested—your attorney should be your first call if you are arrested. They may not be able to handle your criminal charges if they normally only do family law work, but they can put you in touch with assistance and possibly arrange bail for you. This is a good reason to pay a retainer up front.
- If you are violently assaulted by your spouse or family—of course you will notify emergency services and obtain medical treatment immediately, but you must also let your attorney know about any violent situations that occur if they involve your estranged spouse or another family member who's upset about the divorce. A violent assault is not only a criminal offense, it may physically disable you or cause harm to children, and this may be a factor in custody or financial decisions made by the court.
- If your spouse is arrested—if your estranged spouse is arrested, alert your attorney during business hours as soon as you can. There's no need to wake anyone up in the middle of the night with such a development, unless your minor children are in your jailed spouse's custody. In this case, it is wise to alert your attorney as soon as possible. A new custody order can be quickly signed if necessary to ensure the children are in a safe place.
- If your spouse or spouse's lawyer makes contact--it may be tempting to harass your spouse or their attorney when you're feeling angry or anxious, but this behavior only makes things worse for you. Once you and your spouse hire your respective attorneys, the lawyers should do all of the communicating. If your spouse's attorney attempts to contact you, or your spouse contacts you when there was an agreement that they would not, notify your attorney during normal business hours. There is a caveat, however: do not use this rule to deny the other spouse access to children unless the court has forbidden contact, because you will end up looking like the bad guy. Courts are cracking down on parents who alienate the non-custodial parents from their mutual kids. But don't get drawn into arguments with your spouse or their attorney. Disconnect the call, then give your own lawyer a call and let them fight for you.
To learn more, contact a law firm like The Law Offices of John G. McGill, Jr.