One of the most frustrating things for a client in a divorce is not hearing back from their attorney. A divorce is nerve wracking at best, a stressful experience unlike anything you have gone through before (unless this is not your first divorce…). If your attorney will not return your calls or emails, this just adds to your distress.
That means you have the wrong attorney, and there is a simple solution to that. There are a lot – and I underscore a lot – of fine divorce attorneys in your neck of the woods. Fire yours, and hire someone who will work with you.
By the same score, it is important that you be responsive to your attorney.
There can be a number of reasons you may not return a call or email from your attorney. You may truly be busy – but realistically – how long does it take to send a 2-sentence text saying so? You may not want to answer the question or provide the information. You also may not want to incur the cost of another phone call.
Let’s look at cost first. This is almost always an issue. Lawyers generally charge a minimum of 1/10th of an hour (6 minute increments). If a lawyer charges $300 an hour (for ease of math sake; yours may charge much more or much less) that boils down to $5 a minute! Wow. So that minimum charge is $30 if they answer a phone call and say, “Hello.” Or answer a text and say, “No”. That’s $15 a letter.
A good family law lawyer would rather have you communicate with her/him than nickel and dime you to death. While they may have minimums, knowing your financial situation they may be willing to waive their minimums just to keep communications open. You may be able to get them to agree not to charge you for calls or texts of less than 5 minutes, for example, but you need to negotiate this up front rather than protest a bill after getting it.
I tell my clients up front a) that family law does not always happen between 8 AM and 5 PM so I expect them to call me in evenings and on weekends when emergencies come up (as they always do especially when kids are involved), and b) I’d rather they call me with a problem than not call me because they were worried about how much it would cost them. I’d rather donate the time than not hear of their concern. Often people stress over nothing, something I can set their mind at ease over in a few minutes over the phone or by email or text. I don’t want to charge them big bucks for a little comfort.
Not calling or emailing your lawyer back may also cost you more money in the long run. I have a couple of cases now where the opposing party failed to respond to her lawyer and produce documents for discovery – easy documents to produce, including bank statements. We went to court, I got an order, and the other parties will be paying tens of thousands of dollars because they didn’t work with their lawyers on simple things, wouldn’t communicate, wouldn’t cooperate. If it goes much further they could even face jail time for contempt of court. These are extreme examples to be sure.
Less extreme examples are that, if your lawyer is charging you for every phone call or email, then every time they try to contact you, you are being charged. This will quickly surpass the amount of your responding to the first contact. And failing to respond may well lead to some court default which leads to serious consequences to you, your children or your property.
Your lawyer cannot do it alone. You have to fully participate.
The last reason people don’t respond to their lawyer’s communication is that they don’t want to answer the question or provide the information. It is important to understand that you must be willing to reveal everything – good and bad – to your lawyer. If you don’t, then you run the probable risk that your lawyer will be blindsided by what you kept from them in court, and they will not be prepared to defend you. Dirty secrets almost always come out in a divorce, and although California is a “no fault” divorce state (i.e., it doesn’t matter if your spouse had an affair during marriage as grounds for divorce any more), it doesn’t mean that such things cannot be used for other things in the litigation.
Married persons (and you are married until the judgment, even though separated) owe each other a high fiduciary duty by law. That means that they must (emphasize must) disclose all financial records to the other, and deal with each other with the utmost levels of good faith and fair dealing in all financial transactions. This translates that each side must produce all bank statements, credit card records, etc., that can be obtained or are in their possession (which includes available through the bank) If one side refuses to do so (often a reason people refuse to respond to their attorneys) they need to understand that the judge will order them to do so, and eventually they will be forced to produce them. By the time it gets to the point where they are forced to produce them, they will have been ordered to pay thousands of dollars in the other side’s fees and possibly sanctions.
When I worked for a firm that made me record every minute spent during the day I had a client who always called me between 7:15 AM and 7:30 AM. He knew I was commuting and I wouldn’t charge him for the call. We conducted much of his case during those early-morning calls. My clients today don’t have to play those games, and hopefully your attorney encourages you to freely communicate without fear of getting a heart attack with your next bill.
Return your attorney’s calls to enable them to represent you. Be honest and forthcoming, and let them handle troublesome issues rather than hide them from them. The issue you think is so bad that you keep it from your attorney may mean nothing and you are hiding for no reason. And it may lead to bigger costs down the road.