Family Law Experience You Can Trust

Who is the Client?

by Sharon Jackson  on June 21, 2023 under ,

In family law cases, the client is the person involved in the legal action. The person bringing the suit is the Plaintiff who is often referred to as the Petitioner in family law cases. The person defending the legal action is the Defendant who is referred to as the Respondent.

In family law cases, lawyers represent people who are legal adults, over the age of 18 who are mentally competent and capable of handling their own legal affairs. Few consumers experience family law issues early in their adult life and the vast majority of family law clients are adults over the age of 30.

Paying for the attorney makes me the client, right?

Paying the legal bill does not make you the client. While your 23-year-old daughter and her lawyer are grateful that you are paying for the divorce, you are not the person getting the divorce and are therefore not the client.

Being a third-party payer does not give you any special rights in the case. Anybody can pay the legal bill of another person as long as that person consents or if the court orders it. Examples of third-party payers include friends, family members, lovers, employers, ex-spouses, loan companies, and non-profit agencies. Sometimes, the judge even orders the opposing party to pay for the other side’s legal bills. Paying the bill does not create an attorney-client relationship between the payer and the law firm. The law firm has a duty to represent the client, not the payer.

If I am helping my adult son with his legal case, can I get copied on communications other than the bill?

The right to confidential communications belongs to the client. If the client wants you to receive a copy of the communication or be authorized to receive case information, they can notify the attorney of this request. Some law firms will not honor this request, regardless of the client’s preference. Instead, they may require the client to forward communication to the third party.

Why do lawyers hesitate to communicate with the client’s parents or other third parties?

One of the main issues with including a parent or other third party in a conversation or on written communication is that the client is then waiving attorney client privilege. The communication between the client and the attorney alone is privileged. The conversations with the third party are not privileged and that person can be subpoenaed and forced to testify. You never want to discuss anything in the presence of a third party that you do not want to come out in court.

Food for thought: If the client later has a fight with the person they have included in their conversation, like a best friend or a sibling, that person can be weaponized against the client!

If I am a parent of an adult who is going through a family law case, can I hurt the case?

We have seen a number of incidents where the parent or other well- meaning third party unintentionally hurts the legal case. One example involves custody. The courts are comparing one parent to the other parent. While family/community support is one factor that is considered in custody decisions, it does not trump the ability of one party to parent the child compared to the other parent. If the court believes that the grandparent is parenting the child and not the parent who is litigating the case and fighting for custody, this can harm the client’s credibility as the primary caregiver.

We have also seen over interference by a current spouse or significant other in cases that involve custody of a child from prior relationships. The courts want the parents to parent, not third parties.

Another way third parties can harm the case is by not letting the actual client speak for himself. The parent seeking the divorce or custody has to be able to articulate his or her own strengths as a parent, goals, concerns, and requests to the judge and to the lawyer. Overbearing third parties may cause the court to wonder if the client is really asking for what they want or simply capitulating to pressure placed on them by family members.

The third party’s desire and instructions may also conflict with the client’s wishes. The firm has to listen to the client and may ask the third party to step out so that the client can freely express his or her wishes.

Finally, the conduct of the third party may impact the firm’s desire and willingness to represent the client. If a client has a parent or family member who calls the firm and is rude to staff, yells, or behaves in a manner that is unacceptable, the firm may withdraw from the case and discontinue representing the client altogether.

When is it appropriate to have a third party involved in anything beyond just financial assistance?

Some attorneys will not permit the inclusion of third parties no matter what. Some occasions where attorney permit the inclusion of third parties may include the following:

  • The client works an unusual work shift and can’t communicate with the firm or comply with court requests without the help of a third party.
  • The client has a language barrier and needs assistance communicating in English.
  • The client travels out of the state or country and is not physically available to provide documents and information needed without the assistance of a third party.
  • The client is physically disabled and needs assistance from the third party.

How can a third-party family member help the client besides paying the bill?

One way that a family member or parent of an adult can help the client during a family law case is by being emotionally supportive and reassuring the client. They should provide a warm empathic ear and listen to the client’s concerns, fears, and frustrations.

The most important way a third party can help is by providing the client with emotional support on non-legal issues. Often clients spend thousands of dollars calling the attorney with non-legal issues. Friends and families aress issues like occasional late arrivals by the other parent, frustrations with not being able to move on, feelings of being placed on hold, and complaints about the other party that are material to the case. Friends and family members can help listen to possible options and be a sounding board for the client to think through possible choices.

What do I need to know before I become a third-party payer in a family law case?

You should be aware from the start that the law firm has no obligation to talk to you, listen to you, or include you in any correspondence. You are not permitted to direct the work of the firm and don’t get a vote on the case strategy or firm methods.

You should remember that you are not the client, and your goal is to help the client, not to interfere, overstep, or impede the client’s ability to have a successful case.

Remember that your conduct can hurt the client and the client’s case so proceed with love and caution.

Contact Attorney Sharon Jackson Today

The law firm of Attorney Sharon Jackson, LLC offers the highest degree of attention and experience you need to deal with your divorce, child and family law issues in Metro Atlanta courts.

Call us at (678) 909-4100 to schedule a consultation with an experienced member of our team.

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