Memory is an elusive thing. It can slip away at the worst possible times. It can re-emerge later, to smack you in the head: you forgot to tell your family law attorney something important. Something really, really important. Or, perhaps, you outright lied to your attorney. Now what do you do?
Keep the Roles Straight
In Virginia’s adversarial legal system, every party has a role to play:
- You — Usually you are the defendant or plaintiff
- Your spouse or ex-spouse
- Your attorney — Your advocate, legal counsel, advisor, and defender
- Her attorney — Her advocate; your opposition
- The Virginia judge — The one who sits in judgment of you
Attorneys do not judge; the judge is not your defender. Your attorney is the only one in a Virginia courtroom, hearing, or legal proceeding whose entire job is to defend your rights.
We are NOT Clutching Our Pearls
Attorneys have to be tough, dealing with legal issues every day. Any experienced family law attorney has heard things that would shock, appall, or traumatize most people.
If you are withholding information or outright lying to your attorney to avoid offending your only legal defender, get past it … immediately. Few Virginia attorneys are cut from the pearl-clutching, kid-gloved stereotype some folks have of southerners.
Good family law attorneys can often find ways to put lipstick on any pig; whatever you have done, an attorney can find a way to lessen the blow and turn the sow’s ear into a silk purse.
Your attorney can put a positive spin on just about anything, if given the chance.
No attorney can help you if your lawyer hears from your wife’s attorney, in court, for the very first time that Dolly — the so-called “other woman” your wife accuses you of seeing — is, in fact, a sheep. The best you can hope for is an appeal for an adjournment. And some vigorous hand-washing all around.
Providing Wrong Information
Most of us strive to be reliable reporters. This is especially important when confiding in your attorney in a family law matter:
- Domestic abuse
- Child custody
- Sex crime
When you sit down with your family law attorney to explain exactly how your wife got an ankle fracture, if you tell your attorney this is her first injury during your marriage, you need to be accurate. If medical records indicate she also sustained a broken wrist a year earlier, your credibility is destroyed.
The worst place for wrong or misleading information to be uncovered is the witness stand. If you are testifying that her ankle fracture was the only time she was hurt in your marriage and your wife’s multiple X-Rays are entered as evidence, you have committed perjury.
Did you Commit Perjury?
Under Virginia law, whether your issue is civil (divorce, child custody) or criminal (sex crime, spousal abuse) the punishment for perjury — lying in person or in writing while under oath — is the same: a class 5 felony, as described in Code of Virginia §18.2-434.
The punishment for a Class 5 Felony is described in frightening detail in §18.2-10 (e):
For Class 5 felonies, a term of imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than 10 years, or … confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.
Ouch. Lying to or withholding information from your attorney is bad; getting caught in a lie in court is criminal.
Falsehoods, Lies and The Like
Some political eras fairly seethe with ways to describe untrue utterances: lies, falsehoods, prevarications, exaggerations, embellishments, misstatements. If you tell your attorney something you know is factually incorrect, you have sundered the attorney-client bond of trust on which your case is built.
We would politely remind you that your attorney is your only defender in a Virginia legal proceeding. If you realize you misspoke, contact your attorney immediately and explain what happened. A lie between you and your attorney can end with your correction; a lie uncovered in court can end your case.
Your attorney is bound by attorney-client privilege to keep your secrets (so long as you are committing no crimes). Your attorney is also bound by rules of professional conduct. The two ideas are connected and meet at the Virginia State Bar Association’s professional guidelines, Rule 1.6, Confidentiality of Information.
Fuzzy and warm as your temporary relationship is, your lawyer is not going to sacrifice her or his professional standing to maintain your lies. Your attorney will zealously defend you, given the information you provide.
Sometimes, your attorney will ask very specific questions of you but deliberately not ask other questions, because the answer would not further your case. Listen carefully, answer honestly and completely, and then stop talking. This can preserve your attorney-client relationship while honoring attorney-client privilege.
At The Firm For Men (which you can reach online or by calling 757-383-9184), we are lawyers. We don’t judge. So if you “forgot” to mention something to your previous family law attorney, you can come clean with us. We keep secrets. We keep promises. And we keep looking out for the rights of Virginia’s men in every aspect of Virginia family law.v