Family Law... Do I need a Criminal Lawyer?

Bernie Thibault – March 2016

The Intersection Between Family and Criminal Law

You just recently separated from your spouse and are thinking “Who is a good family law lawyer?”  Did you ever stop to think you may need to look for a lawyer who practices criminal law as well?

Of course not, but the breakdown of a relationship or marriage can be a very stressful time.  Rarely can people just go their own ways.  There are a number of issues to deal with.  Who stays in the home or apartment?  Who keeps the car?  What about that credit card and line of credit? With what parent are the children going to live most of the time?  If not with you, then how will you ensure that you remain relevant in the children’s lives? These are but a few of the many difficult issues that need to be dealt with when a relationship is at its end.  Add into the mix infidelity, heartache and the jealousy you may feel towards your former spouse.  What about that new boyfriend or girlfriend who comes into the picture much too early?  The emotions and stakes are high.

When under this kind of stress, it is not surprising that people begin to crack at the seams.  People will do and say things that they would never think of doing otherwise, ranging from the trivial to very serious.  Some of those actions can bring criminal liability.  This is no surprise to those of us who practice family law; we have a front row seat to this unfortunate unfolding of events.  Most common are the hundreds of angry and hateful emails between former spouses which often cross the line into what would be considered criminal harassment.  We hear of verbal arguments between former spouses which become physical.  Most unfortunate are the not infrequent allegations of child abuse.  We have all had the client who sends us a panicked email telling us that a police officer has asked them to come to the station to answer a few questions.

If this is your situation, then you should seek out a criminal lawyer as soon as possible; this holds true even if you have not yet been charged with a crime.  Having a criminal lawyer at a very early stage can provide certain advantages.  We can speak with the investigating officer and obtain important information about the investigation without compromising your liability.  We can speak with you and provide you with an opinion as to whether the police will have grounds to charge you with a crime.  We can act as a liaison with the investigating officer to arrange a time for you to attend the police station if the police decide to arrest you.  This is a much preferred option as opposed to being collected by police at your place of work or with others you would rather not know about your situation.  Most importantly, we can provide you with legal advice as to how to handle a police interrogation.

When and if you are charged with a crime, you likely will be under an order not to communicate with certain people.  This may include your former spouse and/or your children.  These conditions are put in place for their safety.  This can prove to be very difficult for you, especially if you need to speak with your spouse about your children or for reasons.  While you may think the police will take these factors into account, most often you will not be permitted to communicate with these people for any reason, not even through a lawyer.

This can have significant implications with respect to your ongoing family law negotiations or court proceeding.  There can also be negative implications upon what otherwise may be a positive and strong relationship between you and your children.  For this reason, it is very important that you have a criminal lawyer who can quickly and efficiently to make the appropriate application to court to vary your “no contact” order.  In many cases, the “no contact” provisions can either be lifted in their entirety or varied to allow for limited contact through a lawyer and therefore allow your family law counsel to negotiate and/or make a court application to re-establish contact with your children.

Even if you are successful in lifting a “no contact” order, what are you going to do about your charges? Are you going to trial? Do you want to plead guilty? When and how is this going to happen? Things become a bit more complicated if you already have a family lawyer trying to negotiate a settlement or preparing for a trial.  When and how you deal with your criminal matter will have some impact on your family law matter and vice versa.

Do not worry – you do not need a criminal lawyer yet and hopefully you never will!  But have someone in mind, particularly if you have a spouse who is spiteful, perhaps someone who has threatened you or made allegations against you in the past.  If this has happened before, it can happen again and the results can be devastating.   Your family law lawyer may also practice criminal law and this can be a plus.  Regardless, it is very important to search out a lawyer who is competent in criminal law and this person must be someone you trust.  Make sure they have time for you and time to speak with your family law lawyer.  How you deal with one matter will have implications for the other, so communication between the two lawyers can be beneficial.  It can be very convenient to have both lawyers in the same firm but this is not a necessity.  If your lawyers are from different firms, then be sure to provide the proper consent to each of them to speak about your files.

Moral of the story is, do your research on criminal lawyers as well as family lawyers when your relationship breaks down.  Being charged with a crime can add insult to injury after having just gone through a separation from your spouse.  It is an added complication to your life that you simply do not need.  A competent and responsive criminal lawyer should appreciate your situation and simplify what otherwise may be a confusing and uncertain period of your life.

Bernie practices family and criminal law at MDW Law and can be reached at (902) 422-5881.

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