We represent individuals from all walks of life. Sometimes our client is a person who at one point in their life suffered from addiction issues and went through a recovery process. Even when recovery was decades ago, divorce and family law litigation can be traumatic and bring back bad, painful memories. However, it is possible to divorce after recovery with dignity and without relapse.
One factor that makes family law litigation traumatic and stressful is the knowledge that the opposing party, the person with adverse legal interests, was an intimate partner. Each side knows the other’s darkest secrets. For a spouse or parent who has had substance abuse issues, there is always the imminent threat or possibility that the other side will try to make addiction history a part of the case. Even if addiction and recovery pre-dated the marriage and there were no substance-related issues during the relationship, hostile opposing parties may try to use the history as leverage in negotiation, to embarrass and intimidate, or to distract the judge from the real issues.
Find Positive Support
Divorce is an unpleasant experience. Individual therapy is an important asset for anyone going through high-conflict family law litigation. Private individual therapy is protected by law much the same way as attorney-client conversations. Therapy is legally considered to be both “confidential” and “privileged.” Individual therapy is a safe space for you to talk about your issues and fears. It can help you identify the things about your situation that are within your control that you can work on, as well as identify the things that you cannot control that you do not need to worry about. Therapy can help reduce your anxiety associated with litigation, and, as a result, you will make better decisions about your case and you will feel better about the decisions that you make for your case. Individual therapy can also help you stay focused on what matters for your case and for your desired outcome.
Use the tools that you learned in recovery to stay with a strong, positive support group. Support groups and healthy family and friend relationships can be very helpful resources. Lean on them when you feel alone or frustrated. If you need to talk about your case, talk to your therapist or to your attorney.
Don’t put your life on hold. Divorce is an unpleasant experience, but it shouldn’t paralyze you. Continue your work and hobbies and engage in healthy activities. If you have a question about whether a decision may impact your family law case, discuss it with your attorney. Enroll in a class or program to learn a new skill, have fun and meet new people.
Maintain Your Credibility
Every case comes down to credibility. Credibility is the overarching determining factor for who wins and who loses. Credibility is assessed in many ways: Is what the lawyer says credible? Does the lawyer seem honest? Is what the client says credible? Does the story make sense? Does the client seem honest?
Cases are sometimes lost because a witness makes a false or misleading statement about something that doesn’t even really matter. If a witness denies a fact, then the fact is proven to be true, the damage to credibility permeates the rest of the witness’s testimony. This perspective is very important for all litigants and witnesses, but it is especially important for individuals who have been through recovery. If you are going through a lawsuit, you could jeopardize your credibility and the credibility of your case by being dishonest about your past, even if your past really isn’t relevant to what’s going on in your lawsuit.
Handling this well requires an understanding about the process and the motives of any person who tries to bring up your history. If you do not take the bait and are honest about your past, the opposing party or their lawyer are at great risk to lose their credibility for several reasons:
- Your past may not be relevant or may be only slightly relevant, so when they ask you about it and you are honest, they lose points with the judge for taking an unnecessary cheap shot
- If you are honest and upfront, the other side had better be honest about their past too; otherwise, there will be a stark contrast between you and them in terms of who is dodging questions and even being dishonest
- If your past is relevant, you can limit the time spent on that topic by being honest and even addressing it during your testimony with your lawyer. The only way the other side gets to spend extraordinary time on the topic is if you dodge questions or play games with your answer
Organize Your Evidence
In many divorces after recovery, a concern is that no matter what your claim is in the divorce, and no matter how legitimate your claim is, the other side will be able to reduce your credibility and your claim by pointing at your history. There are several strategies for dealing with this issue:
- Work with your attorney to gather the evidence that supports your claim, including documents, photographs, and even a list of witnesses. Gathering and producing your evidence early in the case is a show of strength and a sign that you are prepared to support your claim
- Create a timeline to show the recency of the evidence that supports your claim and to contrast your evidence against the old history that the other side may try to argue is relevant. Timelines are powerful tools for visualizing information and putting events into context
- Use the pretrial discovery process to strengthen your case. Through written discovery and deposition, you can push the other side to admit the validity of your evidence. If your case involves an expert, make sure the expert has access to the information necessary to support the expert's opinion. Let the expert know that the other side may try to distract with irrelevant history. The expert will then be able to assess your history and explain why it does not impact your claim
Identify and establish your goals with your lawyer. Once you and your lawyer are on the same page about the facts of your case and you have determined that your goals are realistic and are what would be best for you and your children, stay focused on your goals. By preparing your case for trial from the beginning, you will have a path that will help you stay proactive and focused, rather than distracted and defensive. A family law trial lawyer can help you put your evidence together in a compelling way so that your story may be told to the mediator and then the judge.