Steven E. Sufrin, Attorney at Law
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Here are a number of ways that clients truly can ruin their divorce cases:

1. Lie or play games with your lawyer. If you aren't honest with the lawyer, how can you expect that they can help you? Let a lawyer make representations that aren't true and the lawyer won't be the one the Judge is mad at. After all, the Judge is aware that attorneys are generally the mouthpiece for the client, and if mis-statements are made, typically the client - not the lawyer - get the sanction or loses credibility in the court's eyes.

2. Miss court hearings or show up late without a good reason. People amaze me how they can be so foolish or disrespectful to the legal process, then sincerely get shocked when the Judge lowers the boom - again, typically on the client, not the lawyer who was there on time.

3. Don't cooperate when the lawyer asks for information or overstep deadlines. All of these behavioral problems just end up in a disastrous result. In fact, if you do not provide information, or provide it just before trial and well after the disclosure deadlines, it is not uncommon for the Court to not allow its use. Believe me when I tell you that it is extremely frustrating to finally have the information that you have been asking the client for literally months; and now, at trial, not be able to use it.

4. Don't focus on the "now." When people get mired in self-pity - they lose! Try to focus on resolving the current conflict, instead of focusing on their perceived victimization. Arizona is a "no-fault" state, so most Courts are not going to let you discuss blame or fault in most divorce situations anyway. Same with the future. Some people want to deal with multiple possible eventualities years into the future. While it is important to let your lawyer know about these future concerns, oftentimes, there is not anything that can be done currently about possible "what if?" years off.

5. Using your lawyer as a therapist. Not helpful. Lawyers are not typically trained as therapists and frankly, using them as such will quickly exhaust a litigation budget. Let the lawyer manage the domestic conflict and use a therapist or coach to help manage the toxic emotions that need to be appropriately addressed.

6. Ignore your lawyer's advice. Why would someone hire a lawyer and ignore their advice? It sounds implausible, but it happens all the time. Find the smartest and most experienced lawyer available and listen and follow their advice. Lawyers are paid for their wisdom and experience-not to help satisfy client's self destructive impulses. Additionally, experienced counsel have typically seen most scenarios hundreds of times and know how to steer you through the problems. This is why it is so important to get competent representation.

7. Don't pay your lawyer. Believe it or not, your lawyer works for a living. His or her stock in trade is their experience and advise, coupled with the time spent on your case. The last thing a lawyer wants to be is worried about being paid, when he/she would rather be worrying about the merits and strategies of your case. Remember that you get what you pay for in this world and to shortchange your attorney's effectiveness to save a few dollars may be "penny wise and pound foolish" - especially when it comes to the futures of your children or dividing everything that you have amassed throughout your life so far.

8. Take your anger out on your attorney or their staff. Your lawyer knows that there are a lot of emotions throughout this process. However, sometimes people transfer their anger at their spouse towards their lawyer. If you are hostile with your lawyer or his/her staff, how effective do you think they can be? Get a counselor and work through the anger . Your counsel and the people who work for him/her are not the enemy and should not be treated as such. They are there to help. Anger, in general, does not let you think clearly or present your best case in divorce court.

9. Don't understand your role or the attorney's role in the process. The attorney/client relationship is a professional relationship and it is important for you to understand the nature of the relationship. Treating the lawyer as a friend, therapist or the enemy (see above) is not particularly helpful. Boundaries benefit everyone. The lawyer must remain clinical and detached enough to help guide you through the tumult. Blurred boundaries help no one and actually become destuctive.

10. Don't have realistic expectations. If the bar is set too high, the crash landing is more painful. Unrealistic expectations prolong litigation and are a pain to the family. In general, avoid the "win at all costs" world view. Make your best deal and get on with it. People that get stuck on the litigation carousel sometimes never get off - a painful, expensive and miserable existence. Similarly, you should avoid any attorney who promises unconditionally that you will get everything that you want.

11. Pick a lawyer based on their advertisement. Probably the two most important professionals you will need in your life are your doctor and your divorce lawyer; neither of whom should be chosen based upon the size of their yellow page or billboard ad. Get a referral and research the competence of your lawyer. Check the lawyer out at the Arizona State Bar Association's web site for prior complaints or sanctions. Too much is a stake to pick a name at random because you liked their ad or their jingle sounded catchy.

12. Take the advice of friends and family over your lawyer's. While they mean well, your sister or high school buddy sometimes are less objective than the professional actually involved in the divorce. These people also typically have no legal training or are only telling a person what they want to hear. Clients that follow well-meaning family member's advice over their attorney's usually end up getting hurt by the legal process. In other words, the delicate world of divorce negotiations cannot and should not be impacted by angry friends or one-sided relatives that are too upset or too close to understand the full implications of their advice.

13. Think that you are going to win. Nobody wins in a divorce, especially the children! You cannot possibly divide up the children, the possessions and the debts of a marriage and come out feeling whole - it is an impossibility. If you maintain too high of a sense of entitlement, the end result is that you will be destined for disappointment, no matter what the result. While a trite idiom, life is indeed unfair sometimes. But to dwell on "winning at all costs" instead of trying to figure a way forward will be hazardous, expensive and destructive. 

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