This is a question many couples ask who are thinking about divorce. There are many reasons why people want to use one attorney and usually, it comes down to finances. How can we cut our costs of this divorce since attorneys are expensive, how can we divorce and not get into a nasty court battle and how can we remain civil because of the children?
Although a divorce can be costly if two attorneys are involved, a lawyer cannot represent both sides in a divorce. So, even though the simple answer is NO, one attorney cannot represent both parties in a divorce, the complex answer is YES only one party has to hire an attorney. So one lawyer can be used for a divorce IF they only work for one side. The next question is how can an attorney work for only one side and still do all the paperwork for the divorce? The example below explains how the process could work.
For example, Wife hires an attorney. Wife meets with the attorney who will go over the divorce process and what is necessary to get divorced. Wife’s attorney will prepare the documents for filing the case with the court and sends all of the documents to Husband. Husband can get the documents filed at the courthouse by service, or by mail if Husband signs a document saying he got the court papers and he does not want a sheriff to serve them with papers. There are deadlines and timeframes that everyone must follow whether they are represented or not represented by an attorney.
Wife will then meet with the attorney and provide the attorney with her understanding of the agreement between her and her Husband. The attorney will write up the agreement based on what the Wife tells the attorney. The Husband will get copies of this agreement for him to review. If Husband agrees with everything in the paperwork that Wife’s attorney has prepared he does not need to hire an attorney. If he agrees with most of it he can go back to his Wife and request changes. And if she agrees, then she contacts her attorney to change the paperwork. If the agreement reflects what both Husband and Wife want, then the agreement is signed. In this example only one attorney is used to complete the divorce. However, the attorney does not meet with Husband.
Sometimes it is confusing to say Wife hires the attorney if Husband pays a part or all of the attorney fees of Wife's attorney. However, the payment of attorney fees does not mean you have hired the attorney. Only if you have entered into an agreement that the attorney will represent you have you hired the attorney. In this example, Husband and Wife used only one attorney but only Wife was represented and the only person to meet with the attorney.
Many people wonder why the attorney cannot meet with both parties and do work for both of them. Attorney ethic rules say an attorney cannot represent both sides of a case even if both sides are in agreement. In a divorce even if everyone agrees on the outcome, the parties are on opposite sides of the case. The only exemption is if the attorney is serving as the mediator of the divorce and then they can meet with both parties. In the case of a mediator, both parties would sign an agreement with the mediator and it would be clear the attorney is acting in this case as a mediator and not an attorney for either the Wife or Husband.
Sharon is an attorney and former member of CFLA.