Is your Family Lawyer Required to Believe You?
Divorce is an inherently messy process. We know from scientific studies of eyewitness testimony that three people who saw the same car will describe it, just minutes later, as a “brown SUV,” a “blue minivan,” and a “black truck.” If the brain can’t even specify concrete facts about something that happened just minutes ago (or even pass this profoundly insightful test), how can we expect two people who have enormous financial and emotional reasons to disagree to ever manage to tell the same story? So what happens if your family lawyer believes your spouse’s side of the story more than yours?
A family lawyer is, by definition, your legal advocate — meaning that they are obliged to do everything in their power to make sure that you win whatever legal battle you’re fighting. But does that mean they have to treat your words as sacrosanct? Not at all. In fact, Michigan court rule [MCR 2.114 (D)(2)] tells us that, when a lawyer signs a document (like any of the many that our clients file to tell their side of the story), that signature means that
“…to the best of [our] knowledge, information, and belief formed after reasonable inquiry, the document is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good-faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law…”
In other words, the rules tell us that we are legally obligated to check your story and make sure it seems legitimate. So we’re not just ‘not required to believe you’ — we’re required to not believe you. Or, at least, to behave like we don’t believe you. Because if our signature shows up on a document and the other lawyer can show that we didn’t make a reasonable inquiry as to the facts, we can be found in contempt of court, which means at the minimum a nasty fine.
Now, “reasonable inquiry” doesn’t have much definition to it, but that’s actually pretty standard for the law — the point of ‘reasonable’ is that it doesn’t need to be defined; if a reasonable person would have done it, we should do it. So if you tell me that your husband cheated on you with your brother, I could be reasonably expected to ask your brother and get a similar story from him.
The flip side of the same coin is that it is our job to tell you when your story isn’t substantive enough to fly in court. If you think your husband is cheating on you with your brother, but your brother says otherwise and your husband was merely unable to be found for a period of time that happens to coincide with your brother’s lunch break, we have to tell you that you need more than that in order to put your suspicions in front of a judge. (At least, as part of a divorce hearing.) So once again, we’re put in the position of being obligated to act like we don’t believe your story, regardless of whether we personally think you’re right or not.
Combine that with our acute awareness of the gorilla (hope you clicked that link above), and you can see how a family lawyer can start, over hundreds of cases, to learn to act detached and coolly rational. It doesn’t mean we don’t believe you — it just means it’s in your best interest if we act that way.
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We focus exclusively on family law matters so we are always available to answer your questions and help.
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