Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Should I tell my spouse that I am meeting with a divorce lawyer?
Should I tell my spouse that I am meeting with a divorce lawyer?
The common response to someone learning accidentally or discovering very much after the fact that their spouse has consulted with a divorce lawyer is (a) to be angry; (b) to interpret this as the first declaration of war or (c) at a minimum, to feel very threatened. We hear these responses all the time. It is understandable that this news may be devastating if this is how it is discovered that a spouse wants to end a marriage, but once that sinks in, I wish people could accept that it is reasonable that someone would want to speak to a professional about a subject they know nothing about. Speaking with a lawyer in most instances means that someone thinks it would be helpful to learn what happens in a divorce process. This is rational and reasonable.
While there are certainly circumstances where it is impractical or unwise to inform a spouse of such a meeting, it may also be a sign of honestly and respect to inform the spouse. This information can be given before a scheduled meeting or after a meeting with a lawyer. Sometimes this is the way to start the difficult conversation. It can be even better if there is enough trust between the parties to be able to share the factual information acquired from the attorney with the spouse. This can produce trust and can reduce the fear someone is likely to experience if they are kept totally in the dark. It can even be a foundation for the process where information will be shared and not hidden.
As with most assumptions we make in our lives, it is dangerous to make an assumption about what is going to happen if your spouse hires an attorney. First, and I know this may sound self-serving, all lawyers are not evil. I think most lawyers are honest and want to serve their clients’ best interests. The fact that someone hires a lawyer does not mean that he or she is out for blood. It means that a person believes their interests will be better served if a professional is involved. Good lawyers allow their clients to make decisions about it is they want-lawyers should not dictate to a client what outcome they must seek.
Granted, if someone is uncertain whether they want to end their marriage, it could be harmful to the relationship to even acknowledge one’s doubts, let alone revealing that steps have been taken to become legally educated. If there is a concern about violence or a punitive response, or a negative impact on children, these are good reasons to be cautious about informing a spouse of an initial divorce consultation. But, when divorce is acknowledged between two people, there is still often a fear of letting the other know . Some spouses make threats of what is going to happen if the other talks to a lawyer. What this is , is an attempt to control and manipulate the situation. I have told a client more than once that no apology is needed for wanting to educate themselves. One should ask themself what the upside and downside is of informing their spouse. The words that are chosen are as important as the tone of the message.
There is not a right and wrong answer to the question I have posed at the beginning. The message in writing this is to encourage people to consider this question from different angles, before assuming that secrecy is always best. And, if you happen to be the person learning of your spouse’s decision to talk to a lawyer, try putting that decision into perspective and remembering that obtaining professional advice on an unknown subject is almost always a sensible decision.
The very question posed is one that can be discussed with your lawyer. It is almost always a helpful conversation.