The biggest mistake that coParents make with lawyers is trying to find the “most aggressive” lawyer in town. While this may seem reassuring, it often backfires.
I have opposed several of these most aggressive lawyers in town, and they look exciting and aggressive at the first hearing, but they often charge a lot and disappear from the case when the going gets rough. In cases where I have gotten sanctions against the other side, the aggressive lawyer who escalated the case with outrageous allegations and emotional arguments was long gone. By the time the parent was sanctioned, they had exhausted their funds on the high-conflict lawyer and represented themselves. Yet the damage that was done by the aggressive lawyer ended up falling on the parent. In California, it’s usually just the client who gets sanctioned, even for misconduct that was contributed to by the lawyer.
For example, I had a case in which the mother made false allegations of child sexual abuse against my client and the daughter’s cousin. The lawyer argued vehemently against my client and made several statements, not all of them true. In one statement, he argued that my client had agreed in a deposition that he had allowed a young cousin to molest his daughter while in his care.
This statement felt untrue to me, but I couldn’t knowingly respond without re-reading the transcript of the deposition. After I read the deposition, it was clear that it was not true. My client never agreed that the young cousin had molested his daughter, and in fact insisted that nothing inappropriate had ever occurred. My client was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing, as was the cousin, and we were able to prove that the mother knowingly made false allegations.
At the hearing on our request for sanctions against the mother, I submitted a transcript of the deposition with the transcript of the attorney’s statements at court. The judge sanctioned the mother $10,000 for making knowingly false allegations of child sexual abuse against my client. I believe that the attorney’s false statements were part of that decision. Unfortunately for the mother, that attorney had removed himself from the case months earlier when she could no longer pay for his expensive services.
Sure he was aggressive – with her too! Don’t let this happen to you.
You can bet that this filtered down to her daughter. Was the daughter alienated against the mother? No, because the father didn’t share his frustrations with her. Had the daughter ever become alienated against this father, while she was in her mother’s temporary custody while the allegations were investigated? No. She always had a good relationship with him and the amount of time with the mother was not enough to influence her negatively. Of course, another year or two might have made a difference.
However, the stress of the battle of her parents was very hard on her, especially after she was pressured to lie by her mother, which made her afraid to relax. But she had a reasonable father who was able to avoid “splitting” the parents. He spoke supportively of her mother – even while he was investigated for child sexual abuse – and was very careful not to share his upset moments with his daughter. He had had five years as the custodial parent before the mother’s allegations. After the mother had eight months of temporary custody of the children, the children were returned to him and he was able to resume a strong relationship with them.
On the other hand, the mother ended up with supervised parenting time for an hour a week at first – a much worse result than if she had not hired her aggressive attorney, who escalated the case with no legal justification. You don’t want an attorney who will simply agree with you and your fears. You want an attorney who will speak honestly with you, who will say “no” sometimes, and who has an good reputation in the legal community.