Privacy, confidentiality and social media

When I was in high school, one girl had a cell phone. It was in her car, and the rest of us thought her parents were nuts.  Typically, we called our parents from pay phones and only if we had been in an accident or our cars had broken down.  No one carried cameras around, so didn’t take pictures of what we were doing at parties and we didn’t call to say we would be late for curfew.  Our parents found out what we had been up to the old-fashioned way, either by confession, from other parents, or from the rumor mill.  We found out about our parents problems the same way – they told us they were divorcing outright and we heard rumors about other kids’ parents.

Don’t mistake me, I am not defending the past and I am far from a technophobe.  But the past’s lack of easy access to cell phones allowed, perhaps even caused, much to be private that is shared today.

Today’s parents and their children have the gift of close contact.  But in return for that gift, we have exchanged privacy and the ability to keep secrets within a small group.  This can have devastating consequences to a family law case.

Just a quick look at any so-called “entertainment” website shows just how quickly a couple’s private concerns become public knowledge when unfortunate photographs or posts appear on social media.  Although most of us aren’t famous (or worse, infamous!), we still don’t want our families and friends to dig through our private trauma the way the public digs through the tribulations of the Kardashians, the Michael Douglases, or Russell Brand and Katy Perry.

Consider the impact of the following on your custody or divorce case:

  • Pictures of your underage teenager at a party with a bottle of what appears to be beer in her hand.
  • Pictures of your two-year old son on the back of your motorcycle without a helmet, while you were on the road.
  • Comments by your best friend, showing up on your social media site, discussing the “good time we had, you were so drunk!!!!” and dated on a visitation weekend.
  • Your new status post, “Looking for a hot man, for hot loving!” posted while you are still married.

Do these seem outrageous?  Let me assure you, these and much worse have been seen on social media by attorneys like me, who are asked to defend child custody, child visitation, divorce and alimony cases.

I suggest that anyone considering a divorce or custody action carefully  review their social media profiles and disclose that content to their attorneys.  Evidence from social media is discoverable and may be admissible at trial. If you have already posted things that might not paint you in the most flattering light, the best thing for you to do is, stop posting and seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney who can assess your situation and help you determine your best path forward.

 

 

 

Trust your attorney – you paid her to take care of your case

You came to the consultation. We talked. We discussed the basics of your case.  I explained how I work and told you my retainer fee.  At some point you paid the retainer and we signed a retainer agreement.  I am your attorney for the case.

We explored possible means to accomplish your goals.  I explained the law to you.  I gave you my opinion as to the best way to proceed.  You decided to think about it, and left my office.  But then you decided to get the opinions of your friend whose been through the “same thing”, your mother, another friend who works in an attorney’s office, and so on.  Based on their input, you called me.  You said THEY were sure you are entitled to more than I had informed you of, that the law was clearly in your favor, and that no judge would ever find in favor of your spouse.  In fact, we need to go straight to a hearing because there is no need to settle because a judge will just think you are weak.

Virtually no attorney will resent a prospective client seeking the opinion of other attorneys prior to engaging an attorney on a matter.  The issue I raise here is of clients engaging an attorney to represent him in a case, then seeking “second” opinions from non-attorneys.  Non-attorneys are not authorized in South Carolina, by statutory law, to give legal advice.  In addition, once an attorney has been engaged on a case, many of the issues are of a sensitive and even confidential nature.  Clients should be aware that even the most well-meaning friend or family member may accidentally reveal confidential information or case strategy to the opposing party.

You have fallen victim to what is variously termed the “Greek Chorus”, “Cheerleader Squad”, or “Friends & Family Network.”  They are there not only to support you in your hour of need, but to make dang-sure you get everything that’s coming to you! And they will help you fight tooth-and-toenail until you do.  Even when you think about giving in, their job is to stir the pot until you boil over again.  Because they aren’t gratified until that low-life spouse of yours in in his or her proper, low, and degraded place.

But let me ask you this?  Do any of these friends and family look in the mirror in the morning with you? Do they raise your children, and do they have to explain to them why you and your soon-to-be ex are unhappy? Will they be the ones paying the mediator, the GAL, and the lawyers? Will they be the ones going into the courtroom to testify to the court about why there has been no settlement after repeated attempts?  Do your friends and family know when settlement attempts are required, which counties are mandatory mediation jurisdictions, and which forms must be filed in all cases as of 2013?  Are they experienced at developing parenting plans? Do they know the different standards for sole, joint and shared custody? Do they understand the various grounds for divorce, and what evidence will be required? Do they know when you need a competent witness to testify at a hearing (for that matter, do they know what makes a witness “competent”)?

We lawyers will explain the law and how it applies in YOUR unique case.  We any possible options and explain the ramifications of your decisions on your case, your finances and your lifestyle, to the best of our ability.  We try to prepare you for any changes that might effect your future, especially in child visitation and child support cases.  We know the answers to all the basic questions, and we have additional questions as well as answer .

So, if your BFF, your auntie, your step-mom and her friend that works in a doctor’s office who got divorced last year can all give you good advice, why  hire me?  Hire me because you want a professional yet caring attorney who will zealously defend your case and keep you informed regarding the law and its application to the facts of your case.  That is why hiring an attorney is better than listening to your BFF and the “Greek Chorus.”  And its why your attorney’s fees are money well spent.

 

 

Who pays for my divorce?

Usually it starts like this.  A potential divorce client comes in for a consultation and states right off, “I don’t have any money.”

Uh-oh. I have to tell you, frankly, that is a bad start.  Because even if you and your spouse can agree on every single thing right down to splitting the silverware, divorce is going to be expensive.

First, there are the court costs and the service of process fees.  These costs are the same whether you have an attorney or are a self-represented litigant (often referred to as pro se.)  In addition, if you and your spouse cannot reach a fair and equitable settlement, you may be ordered to participate in mediation.  Many counties, including Aiken County, are mandatory mediation counties.  If the contested issues involve child custody and visitation, the judge will appoint a Guardian ad litem to the case.  You will pay for the mediator and the Guardian ad litem‘s time.

In addition to these fixed costs, you may need to hire a private investigator , a business evaluator, psychologists, child custody evaluators, and other experts.

If your spouse says the magic words, “I want a divorce” don’t be tempted to go it alone to save money.  Do yourself the favor of getting legal advice before you decide to be self-represented or to “share” attorneys with your spouse*.

 *In South Carolina, an attorney in a divorce case cannot ethically represent both parties.  “Sharing” an attorney is unethical; typically, an attorney will represent only one of the litigants.  The other may waive his right to an attorney by signing documents stating that he or she has been advised that he has the right to retain his own counsel and has freely and voluntarily given up that right.

Divorces are expensive. But an attorney who practices family law can advise you where to spend money wisely, how to save money by negotiating wisely, and help you understand all the pitfalls and possibilities of the family court.