Bringing the Skeletons Out of the Closet—Why telling your divorce lawyer everything is vital

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Divorce is deeply personal. On top of the heartache and overwhelming logistics, you feel vulnerable and exposed.

We all have things in our lives we’re not proud of—bad decisions, moments we’ve not been at our best. And let’s face it- a crumbling marriage doesn’t always bring out our highest nature.

It’s understandable if you feel protective of your privacy, maybe even a little defensive about the details of your life and relationship during this challenging time.

But when you enter the dissolution process, it’s crucial to be completely open and honest with your family lawyer. Discuss every relevant detail right from the start; withhold nothing. Don’t fall into the common traps of convincing yourself that a particular fact or experience doesn’t matter, that you destroyed the evidence, or that your ex would never bring it up in court or use it against you. Private things can become very public—and ugly—during divorce proceedings.

You may feel uncomfortable sharing intimate or embarrassing specifics of your past, but an attorney can only build a case on what they know. You want your team to be prepared for any issue your ex might raise; no chance of being blindsided in negotiations or trial.

California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning neither you nor your spouse needs to name or prove any offense to obtain a divorce. The judge will not consider “grounds.” If one or both partners want to end the marriage, they can do so simply based on irreconcilable differences or an irredeemable marriage breakdown.

However, while wrongdoing will not impact your ability to end your marriage, that doesn’t mean that past problems, indiscretions, or behaviors will not affect your case. Evidence of past troubles can affect other issues in your divorce, including property division, child custody, and spousal support.

Help your divorce lawyer help you. Tell the truth, the whole truth; the good, the bad, the ugly. An experienced family attorney has more than likely dealt with situations like yours before.

Here are some common skeletons in the closet that can come back to haunt you during divorce proceedings. Disclose these issues to your attorney right away.

You cheated. It used to be (and still is in some states) that adultery was legal grounds for divorce. In a no-fault state, that’s not the case. However, an affair can still impact the outcome of your final divorce decree in several ways, for example:

  • If you inappropriately exposed your children to an extramarital relationship (told them to keep it secret, etc.), this poor judgment could cast you in a negative light with the judge regarding custody decisions.
  • California is a community property state, meaning all assets obtained during the marriage belong equally to both spouses and are split 50/50 in a divorce. Spending marital funds on an affair (trips, hotel rooms, gifts, dinners in fancy restaurants) may affect asset division.

You have financial secrets. First, by law, you must make full financial disclosure of all assets and debts during the divorce process. Don’t attempt to conceal money or property to prevent your spouse from getting their share. In addition, if you have at any point during your marriage committed any financial fraud or been dishonest with your spouse about money—if you have hidden debts (ex: borrowed money, secret credit cards, tax evasion, gambling losses), or assets (ex: undisclosed income, a bonus at work)—if you’ve been hiding any money issues whatsoever, tell your lawyer immediately.

You have a history of substance abuse. It could be alcohol, prescription pills, or street drugs—if you’ve struggled with addiction or been using illegal substances, your attorney needs to know. For example, your ex could use this habit to try to paint you as an unfit parent in a custody battle.

There’s been violence, abuse, or severe neglect in your home. Maybe there was one time you lost your temper and seriously flew off the handle, making threats, or maybe there’s a pattern of verbal or physical abuse; perhaps CPS has gotten involved at some point. As hard as it may be to talk about these things, being upfront with your lawyer is critical.

You’ve overshared on social media, text, or email. In our data-driven, information-saturated era, everything you put out over the Internet remains. Suppose you left a cyber-trail (publicly badmouthed your spouse, posted incriminating photos of you and your flame on social media, made verbal threats over text)—even if you’ve deleted it—it can and will resurface. Any images/videos of a sexual nature (even if they were made with your spouse) can be used to create scandal and damage. Make sure your team knows what’s out there.

The veteran California family attorneys at SFLG are experienced in handling even the most complex personal aspects of your divorce. Our firm is built on trust—you can feel confident discussing the tough stuff with us.

By Debra Schoenberg


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