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It's human nature to want to save face and not look bad in front of others, especially those we perceive to be in a position to judge us. We tell our doctors that we haven't been eating sweets or smoking. And we have an unfortunate tendency to try to make ourselves look as blameless as possible in front of our divorce attorneys.
Why do people lie (or tell incomplete truths) to their attorneys? It may be simply because they don't want to look bad. It may be that they think their attorney will like them better, and work harder for them, if they appear to have a figurative halo over their head. They may be ashamed of their actions. They may want to hide assets they think their attorney will require them to give up or share. Or they may simply think that if their attorney knows the truth, he or she will recommend a course of action they'd rather not follow.
Whatever the reason, the temptation to be less-than-honest with your attorney can be strong, and may seem harmless. Rest assured, lying to your attorney can lead to much bigger trouble than telling the truth would have.
You may have family and friends who are on your side in your divorce, but your attorney is probably the only person who is both on your side and in a position to help you achieve your goals. He or she is ethically bound to work in your best interests—even if you have done some terrible things.
A family law attorney who has been in practice for more than a few years has seen a lot. It's unlikely that your misdeeds are going to shock him or her. At least, they won't if your attorney hears them directly from you.
If you allow your attorney to construct your case around a pleasant fiction—say, that you've been a perfectly faithful spouse—and it comes out in court that the opposite is true, your attorney will be blindsided. He or she won't have an opportunity to construct a narrative that makes you look positive in light of the facts, and you will look like the kind of person who can't be trusted. If you lied about this, a judge may reason, you've probably lied about other things. Instantly, you've not only rendered your attorney less effective, you've also destroyed your own credibility.
Telling your attorney a lie may, initially, cause your attorney to tell you what you want to hear, but any advice the attorney gives you will be flawed—perhaps disastrously so. Just as it is far better to confess to your doctor that you have been smoking when you are seen for a cough, you'll get much better "treatment" from your attorney if he or she knows the truth about your situation. When your attorney knows the facts of your case, he or she can give you the best possible guidance and advocacy.
Aside from massaging the truth to avoid looking bad, probably the most common lie clients tell their divorce lawyers is failing to disclose all of their assets. Minnesota is an equitable division state, which means all assets that a couple acquires during a marriage are subject to a fair (but not necessarily equal) division in their divorce.
Many people have reasoned that if their spouse or a judge doesn't know about a certain asset, it won't be divided. The problem is that it's hard to keep assets hidden for very long, and if your spouse discovers that you hid an asset, your divorce could be reopened on fraud grounds. When that happens, you are already at a disadvantage; a judge is not likely to think favorably of someone who deliberately defrauded their partner. And because the divorce has been reopened, your deceit could very well come back to bite you. The judge has the authority to "grant such...relief as may be just." This could include awarding the asset, in its entirety, to your ex-spouse.
Of course, not only could you suffer punishment at the hands of the court, but you will likely incur legal fees for having to go back to court in the first place.
Once you've taken the time to find an attorney you can trust, don't be afraid to trust your attorney. If you're tempted to lie, think about why that is, and share that with your attorney as well. He or she may be able to help you avoid the outcome you fear, even if it's not possible to promise you the outcome you most want.
You won't lose the assurance of your attorney's best help because you disclose something unfavorable about yourself. Don't lose your attorney's trust, and their skill, because you haven't been honest with her or him.
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