One of a lawyer’s most fundamental ethical obligations is to maintain the confidentiality of client communications. With few exceptions, some of which are noted below, your lawyer cannot voluntarily reveal anything learned while representing you. These rules exist so you can tell your lawyer the whole truth without fear that what you say will later be used against you.

Direct communications between you and your lawyer are protected by the attorney-client privilege. This means that not even a court can make you or your lawyer tell what you have said or written to each other. Information that your lawyer obtains from documents or people other than you cannot be voluntarily revealed, but may in some cases be disclosed if ordered by a court.

But be aware that the attorney-client privilege can be lost if someone other than you and your lawyer (or your lawyer’s staff) hears or reads what you and your lawyer say or write to each other. There are many ways in which your privilege can be waived by disclosure of your confidences to persons other than your lawyer: for example, talking to your lawyer in the presence of a third person not on your lawyer’s staff; telling others what you have discussed with your lawyer; and allowing others to read correspondence between you and your lawyer. If you bring a friend or relative with you to your lawyer’s office for moral support, your lawyer may ask your friend or relative to wait in the reception room in order to preserve the privilege. Because the rules regarding confidentiality and privilege vary slightly from state to state, you should never discuss confidential information about your case with anyone other than your lawyer without first checking with your lawyer.

There are also several exceptions to your lawyer’s duty not to reveal client confidences. A conversation in which a client tells a lawyer that the client intends to commit a crime or, in some states, a fraud, is not privileged and the lawyer could be forced to testify in court about the conversation. The privilege may also be lost if you or one of your witnesses commits perjury and in other circumstances which you should discuss with your lawyer. Also, if a lawyer is accused of wrongdoing by the client, the lawyer may reveal confidential information necessary to defend against the accusation.

Confidential information provided to others may also be revealed during divorce proceedings. Psychologists, therapists, public officials and others may be required by law in your state to report suspected child abuse. Judges may report suspected tax fraud to the Internal Revenue Service. Financial, medical, and psychological records may be subject to subpoena. In summary, your right to privacy may be diminished during a divorce.

SOURCE: American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Divorce Manual; A Client Handbook

Georgia’s New Income Shares Child Support Guidelines

The new Georgia child support guidelines become effective January 1, 2007, and apply to all pending civil actions on or after January 1, 2007. Under the new guidelines, there are several steps that are used to arrive at a child support obligation. First, the gross income of both the mother and the father is determined. This income includes amounts from all non-exempt sources and includes: salary, wages, commissions, self-employed income, bonuses, overtime pay, severance pay, pension and retirement income, interest income, dividend income, trust income annuity income, capital gains, Social Security disability payments, worker’s compensation benefits, unemployment benefits, judgments from personal injury claims or other civil cases, gifts, prizes, alimony from persons not in the subject case, assets which are used for support of family, fringe benefits that significantly reduce living expenses, and any other income including imputed income. Variable income such as commissions or bonuses must be averaged over a reasonable period of time.

After the gross income of both the mother and father is determined, the income may be adjusted in three ways. If there is self-employed income, there is a reduction for one-half of the self-employment taxes being paid. Secondly, if either parent is paying child support under a preexisting child support order, the monthly gross income of such parent is reduced by the amount of monthly support such parent has been actually paying. Finally, if either parent is supporting his or her own children living in the home, but who are not the subject of this child support determination, the court in its discretion may reduce the gross income after calculating a theoretical child support order. This final adjustment will be difficult to obtain since the court must find the failure to do so would cause a financial hardship on the parent and that such adjustment is in the best interest of the child in the case at hand.