Over the years I have seen many ways for people to ruin their divorce case. I know that I have not come close to seeing them all, but I have seen several ways that people hurt themselves in their divorce. Some ways are more common than others. The following list is some of the more common ways that people hurt themselves in family court.
Lie to your lawyer or withhold information from your lawyer. Your lawyer’s advice, analysis, and strategy depends on what you tell him. If, for example, he proceeds under the assumption that you have never used illegal drugs because you lied to him about it, the family court consequences of your drug use will probably go from bad to worse. If you get caught lying about anything, the judge will never believe anything else you say. Credibility is a very important factor in any contested family law case. Furthermore, the judge will most likely not be upset with your lawyer, he or she will be upset with you.
Miss court hearings. This actually happens once in a while. People usually do this because they assume the court will continue the hearing or because they do not think that they have to attend. Sometimes, people just do not respect our legal system. Whatever the reason, the consequences can be disastrous. Never assume that the court will postpone a hearing or that you do not have to attend a hearing and always have enough respect to at least show up.
Don't cooperate with your lawyer. Your lawyer asks for things for a reason. Missing deadlines can have bad consequences, such as the court refusing to review your evidence. Your failure to provide information to your lawyer may result in his inability to present a strong case on your behalf. Some people think that when they hire a lawyer they no longer have to do anything about their case. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Don’t hire a lawyer. Some people think that they don’t need a lawyer and then cannot believe that they got a bad result. Next, they seek a lawyer to "fix" the result. Usually, it is too late to do much (if anything). Just as often, an experienced lawyer could have prevented the bad result. Lawyers are familiar with the individual judges, know how to get things done in family court, know the potential pitfalls, have the knowledge to think things all the way through, and can give advice and make decisions that they did not base on the emotions that their clients feel during a divorce.
Ignore your lawyer's advice or don’t take it. Why would someone hire a lawyer (and pay them a lot of money) and then ignore the advice they that they bought? An experienced lawyer gives good advice because he or she has built that advice and knowledge with practical experience. Sometimes people opt to listen to friends or family instead of their lawyer. Sometimes, this badly hurts their case. Sometimes, ignoring your lawyer’s advice bears no ill consequences, but this does not mean that the lawyer was wrong. It really means that they took a risk and got lucky. However, as the old saying goes, if you keep rolling the dice sooner or later they’re going to come up snake eyes.
Alienate your lawyer. Ways to alienate your lawyer include not paying your bill, abusing your lawyer, abusing your lawyer’s staff (this is the one thing that I never tolerate from a client), lie to your lawyer, threatening your lawyer, and doing many of the other things on this list. Alienating your lawyer will usually not result in anything bad for you. No matter how much a lawyer dislikes the client, most lawyers will still do a good, professional job for the client. However, lawyers are human and you can never tell how a lawyer’s reaction will affect the lawyer’s work. Also, if you alienate your lawyer enough, for example by persistently refusing to pay for services or continually abusing staff, the lawyer may withdraw from representation.
Be unreasonable. Three-quarters of getting what you want in family court is being reasonable. Being unreasonable damages your credibility, angers the judge, and subjects you to monetary sanctions. Focusing on your anger at the other parent, for example, will tell the judge that your focus is not your children’s best interest. It will also badly damage your credibility. Also, you will obviously not get what you want.
Look for the cheapest lawyer. You do not always get what you pay for. Personally, I think that some of the high-priced lawyers in the Phoenix area are not worth half what they charge their clients. However, there is still something to this old saying. If you hire a lawyer who accepts a ridiculously low fee, that lawyer will probably do the minimal amount of work to avoid malpractice.
If you avoid these pitfalls and use common sense, you have a much better chance of success in family court.