While a single divorce lawyer may be able to help spouses finalize the dissolution of their marriage, representing both spouses is considered a conflict of interest. A lawyer could act as a mediator between the spouses to help the parties reach an agreement regarding the parenting and financial matters in their divorce, but he or she would not be able to provide legal advice.
Self-Representation Is Not Recommended
When both spouses agree to all terms of the divorce, it could be tempting to forego hiring a separate lawyer to represent each spouse. However, if one spouse already has a divorce lawyer, it is not a good idea for the other spouse to go without an attorney unless the divorce is simple, there are no contested issues, the parties do not have significant assets, and the other spouse understands his or her legal rights and is completely satisfied with the settlement agreement.
Sharing the other spouse’s lawyer should never be an option. An ethical lawyer should refuse to represent both parties since doing so is considered a conflict of interest.
If the spouse without legal representation has questions about the settlement paperwork prepared by the other spouse’s lawyer, that attorney cannot give him or her any legal advice. Signing settlement papers without having their own lawyer review them could lead to unfavorable circumstances for the unrepresented spouse. Each spouse hiring his or her own lawyer ensures that the rights of both will be protected throughout the divorce process.
A Better Option Could Be Mediation
When a divorce case is simple and conflict-free, mediation may be an option for divorcing couples. The mediation process does not involve judges or battles in court with opposing divorce lawyers. This process can save amicable couples time and money with their divorces. Both spouses would hire the same lawyer who would act as a neutral mediator who would assist in creating a divorce agreement.
The mediation lawyer cannot provide either spouse with legal advice. If legal advice or representation is needed, the spouse in need would have to hire his or her own independent lawyer. A lawyer acting as a mediator can:
- Help spouses fill out the necessary paperwork for the divorce.
- Explain the laws concerning divorce to both parties.
- Communicate with financial officers.
- Help identify and facilitate agreements on possible conflicts with the division of assets/property and child custody or parenting time matters.
- Assist the couple with drafting a settlement agreement that both will sign off on.