Divorce isn’t always like it’s depicted on television and in the movies. Couples aren’t always at each other’s throats, vowing to get the most aggressive divorce lawyer they can afford and to take the other spouse for everything they’re worth. Often, couples reach a mutual decision to end their marriages, and find themselves in agreement about most of the issues they’ll face in divorce.
In light of that, many practical couples wonder if it’s necessary for both of them to hire their own divorce lawyers. They know they want legal guidance, but don’t want to pay more than necessary. Why not share a lawyer, and have the best of both worlds? There are some very good reasons, it turns out.
Ethical and Practical Considerations
First, let’s consider why an attorney would be unwilling to try to represent both parties to a divorce. Michigan attorneys are bound by the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.7 states:
“A lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that client will be directly adverse to another client, unless:(1) the lawyer reasonably believes the representation will not adversely affect the relationship with the other client; and (2) each client consents after consultation.”
What this means is that an attorney cannot ethically represent two parties to a lawsuit (which a divorce technically is) if there is likely to be a conflict of interest between them. Even if a couple believes they agree on every issue in their divorce, it’s almost inevitable that during the process disagreement on some issue will arise. When that happens, it is impossible for the attorney to effectively represent the interests of both parties.
Also, even if the parties appear to agree, there exists the possibility that one party has talked the other into an agreement that is not in his or her best interests. There might also exist a situation in which one party freely and sincerely agrees to certain terms, but would feel differently with competent legal advice.
Imagine, for example, an attorney represented a 65 year old couple, married for forty years, with the husband owning a successful business and the wife being a homemaker. The husband and wife may have agreed that he’ll keep the business, she’ll get the house, and there will be no spousal support. If the lawyer believes that the wife will not be able to support herself or maintain the house, he would ordinarily counsel the wife not to accept the agreement, and to pursue spousal support. In this case, if the lawyer did that, he would be acting contrary to the desires and interests of his other client, the husband.
How Some Couples Divorce With One Lawyer
Some couples manage to sidestep the conflict of interest issue by having only one party retain an attorney. The other party is unrepresented, and relies on the represented spouse to have the attorney draw up a divorce judgment that reflects whatever the couple has agreed to. In some cases, both spouses actually meet with the attorney, but only one spouse is the attorney’s client.
This is a risky proposition for the unrepresented spouse. While that spouse may feel pleased to get away without paying legal fees, that self-congratulation will turn to chagrin if he or she realizes that the attorney prepared a divorce judgment that favors the represented spouse. If the unrepresented spouse has signed the judgment, and a judge has approved it, it’s unlikely that anything can be done to change it.
The bottom line is that there is always a risk to divorcing without your own legal representation, especially if your spouse is represented. If you and your spouse truly are in agreement about most of the terms of your divorce, the services of an ethical attorney for each of you, to represent each of your interests, is a smart investment.
To learn more about keeping your legal costs down in divorce while getting the representation you deserve, talk to an experienced Oakland County divorce attorney. Attorney Jim Hubbert has worked with numerous Metro Detroit divorce clients, helping protect their interests while conserving their resources.