Is your divorce and family law attorney “there for you” in an emergency? What is a “true” emergency? How should you handle an emergency in your family law case?
When you have an attorney, it is normal to want and hope for answers and reassurance from him/her.
How can your attorney be there for you in time of emergency or upset?
- Letting you know you are “heard”. You may have some questions that can’t be answered yet (“What’s going to happen?”), but it is comforting to know that someone is in your corner looking our for your interests and paying attention to your wishes.
- Checking email regularly. Sometimes it is a relief just to know that the attorney has a piece of information to consider. Even if the lawyer is in court, or out of the office, knowing that you have put something important in writing for future consideration may put your mind at ease and let you go about your day.
- Letting you know your information is received. A specific reply, a return receipt, communication from the legal staff or even a quick email or text telling you that a phone conference or face-to-face meeting is needed to discuss in more detail lets you know your concerns are being taken seriously.
- Providing reassurance. Knowing that your attorney has dealt with other situations like yours and has a plan for different possibilities that may arise in your case helps you the scary unknown in proper perspective.
- Giving you “dos and don’ts” to assist you in your case. You may be considering a piece of behavior that feels totally reasonable to you now, but has the ability to come back to haunt you later in the case. Follow the instructions your lawyer gives you about what to do and not do in order to avoid accidentally doing harm to your case.
- Helping you to understand the legal process. An explanation of “why” something cannot be resolved immediately along with sharing the overall plan for the case is very helpful!
What is a true emergency?
- Someone’s life is at stake
- Someone is about to be injured
- Someone is about to do harm to himself/herself or others
- A child has been (or you are fairly certain is about to be) kidnapped, or is missing.
- In some cases, property damage or destruction or a break-in
- Cruelty to persons or animals
- Violation of a court order (when immediate harm may occur)
How to report an emergency and when:
- When you call a doctor’s office or clinic after hours it is common to receive the message “If this is an emergency please hang up and call 911”. That is good advice. If you have a true emergency going on, don’t spend time contacting your lawyer while someone is in true physical danger. Call the police. Then notify your lawyer.
- If a child has been abducted, notify law enforcement first, your lawyer second.
- If there is major property destruction that is happening now, tell law enforcement first. If the destruction is more “minor” (example: destruction of mementos in your home during a divorce which is upsetting but not dangerous), you won’t need law enforcement involved but should take pictures and let your divorce lawyer know so that s/he can deal with it by discussing it with opposing counsel, the mediator or the judge (as appropriate).
- Abuse of persons or animals. Report to the proper authorities. If it is going on now call 911. If it is in the past, or ongoing, notify the proper authorities for child protection, elder protection, or animal protection. Then tell your lawyer if it is relevant to your case.
- Stay calm!
- If your attorney is unavailable, or is unable to answer all your concerns immediately, be patient. And don’t react in anger. Angry emails, social media posts or voice messages will come back to haunt you later. Take a deep breath!
- Be aware of manipulation tactics. The parties in a family law case usually know each other pretty well. Your ex may be trying to get you upset and wanting you to say/do something you’ll regret. Don’t fall for it!
- If you have a restraining order in place and the other party is violating it, have a copy of the order with you so that you can show it to the police if and when necessary.
- When there is a “financial emergency”, tell your attorney or his/her staff right away. Here are a few examples: 1) your spouse/ex is making unauthorized withdrawals from accounts; 2) you discover your house payment or utility payment wasn’t made as ordered 3) your spouse/ex is fraudulently incurring expenses in your name. These situations may require your attorney to get an emergency hearing in front of a judge during the court’s work hours.