If you’re facing divorce, you probably know you should get an attorney. If you and your spouse have already agreed to the terms of your divorce, it may seem like a good idea to save money by hiring one attorney to represent both of you. However, sharing an attorney is not allowed in divorce. The lawyer’s professional code of conduct prohibits lawyers from representing both spouses in a divorce, and this rule is in place for good reason.
You may be surprised to learn that your divorce is actually a lawsuit. Technically, even if you and your spouse file for an uncontested divorce, the person who files is suing the other person in order to get a divorce. In all lawsuits, the two sides’ interests are opposed (even if they end up reaching an agreement). This is true in your divorce too.
In your divorce, you’ll be dividing up assets and debts, determining alimony, and setting custody and child support if you have children. If one of you gets an asset or primary custody, the other person cannot have it. Part of your attorney’s job is to protect your interests. An attorney can’t protect your interests and your spouse’s interests at the same time. Whatever is good for one of you is bad for the other one. If an attorney does something for your benefit, they are doing it to your spouse’s detriment. So an attorney can’t have both spouses as clients since she can’t serve both spouse’s interests.
Do both spouses need an attorney?
Just because you and your spouse can’t share an attorney does not mean that you have to hire two attorneys. It is possible for just one spouse to hire an attorney. The other spouse can represent themselves. (We’ll address whether they should later.) In fact, neither party is required to hire an attorney. But hiring an attorney makes the process go so much smoother. An attorney turns the terms you and your spouse agreed to into actual legal documents. She also navigates the court process for you. Because attorneys deal with divorce and the courts all the time, the process is usually a lot faster if you hire an attorney.
Hiring an attorney to look out for your interests does not mean the attorney will do things to purposely screw over your spouse. The attorney will work to accurately capture the terms of you and your spouse’s agreement. But if there are any problematic terms or drafting that favors one spouse of the other, you will benefit from your attorney’s legal counsel.
Of course, the best option is each spouse having their own attorney. But if that just isn’t possible, only one spouse having an attorney is the second-best option. This may be appropriate for couples who have only been married for a short time, do not have children together, and do not have any substantial shared property or debts to divide.
Should both spouses have an attorney?
If your spouse has already hired an attorney, you probably want to hire an attorney too. While your spouse’s attorney can draft the paperwork, your spouse’s attorney is their attorney – she represents your spouse only and cannot give you any legal advice. If your spouse has a professional looking out for them, shouldn’t you have someone looking out for you?
It is worth it to hire your own divorce attorney to review the documents and let you know if there are any potential issues. Even if you have no questions or concerns about the documents, that may just be because you don’t know what to look for. An attorney will read the documents with a close eye and your best interests in mind. She may find problems or ambiguities you didn’t realize were an issue. You’ll be glad you invested a little money up front to avoid a costly and stressful experience later.
It is particularly important for each person to have their own attorney if there are complex issues, such as assets you want protected, debts you don’t want responsibility for, or child custody. You want to make sure that you are aware of any potential red flags, that you fully understand your legal rights, and that you haven’t made any mistakes on the settlement paperwork.
Won’t I be saving money by only hiring one attorney?
It’s tempting to save money in the present by having only one spouse hire an attorney. Separating one household into two can put a strain on your wallet. Potential problems with your divorce may seem far away or unlikely. But not hiring your own attorney is like not buying insurance. Sure, you’ll save on the premium now, but when you get into a car accident or get sick, you’re screwed. The best way to save money in a divorce is not to avoid hiring a lawyer — it’s to reach an agreement with your spouse instead of fighting in court.
A divorce attorney is an expert in the law and will make sure that you have addressed every issue. There are probably items in the settlement that you haven’t considered, or that you didn’t even know should be addressed in the agreement. Divorce attorneys are also trained in legal writing and analysis and can help make sure that your agreement is drafted and submitted properly. A divorce settlement governs your future rights and obligations; you want to make sure the document prevents any unintended consequences and ensures you are protected in case of future issues.
Need Help with Your Divorce Case? Contact the Experienced Family Law Team at Porchlight.
You deserve to have your future protected. You’ve worked hard to build the life you have, and you’ll have more hard work to do after your divorce. Make sure you are set up for success. For help with your divorce, connect with Porchlight at (678) 435-9069 or porchlight.law.