Why can’t an attorney represent both parties in a separation/divorce and meet with both parties if the parties are amicable? Short answer:
it’s unethical, you heathen it’s highly frowned upon. According to the North Carolina State Bar’s Ethics/Rules of Professional Conduct (19 FEO 1), “Opinion rules that a lawyer may not jointly represent clients and prepare a separation agreement.” In other words, an attorney can only meet with and represent ONE party. Even if initially amicable, information may be shared by parties during a joint consultation that could prejudice them later on. When it comes to “sharing” a family law attorney, there are way too many conflicting interests and ain’t nobody got time for that. I don’t care if you’re Miss Congeniality, an attorney cannot ethically represent both parties no matter how agreeable and sugary sweet the divorce is. Don’t get me wrong, we get why you’d consider it; on the surface, sharing a divorce attorney seems like a smart way to save some time and money, particularly if you and your ex already agree on the terms. Keep in mind, however, that even if you and your soon-to-be ex don’t feel like opposing parties in a lawsuit, that is exactly what you are. Representing both of you at the same time would be considered a conflict of interest.
Using a lawyer as a mediator.
Although a single attorney can’t be used to represent both of you, they can be used to help finalize details of your separation and/or divorce via mediation. Mediation is when a chosen third party helps a couple to reach an agreement regarding the terms of their separation and/or divorce to avoid going to trial. Mediators can help draft mediation agreements (which will assist a party’s attorney in drafting a final separation agreement), facilitate agreements, identify sources of conflict, and maintain communication with the powers-that-be. If you use an attorney as a mediator, they cannot give you any legal advice (you would need an independent attorney for that). Mediation is best used when there are minimal assets or debts and when both parties are cooperative and amicable. When it works, it’s great! Mediation is less expensive, less stressful, and takes less time than a court divorce.
One Attorney Or No Attorney
Although they can’t save money with a shared attorney, people love to
self-sabotage look at their options. Many couples who are in “mutual agreement” will decide to channel their inner Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP their way through a “conscious uncoupling” without legal assistance at all (a “pro-se” divorce). 11/10 divorce attorneys would not recommend. In a pro-se divorce, the litigants are responsible for filing and serving all the divorce papers required by their state. If one spouse hires an attorney and the other does not, this attorney can only give legal advice to the person who retained them. The spouse who chooses to represent themselves is left to figure out things on their own. This scenario is more likely to work when couples have uncomplicated circumstances (been through mediation, no joint debt, no children, little to no property, etc.). If your spouse does “lawyer-up,” you should seriously consider doing the same just to level the playing field.
Don’t Make It Weird
Remember, any attorney you hire is working for YOU and YOU ALONE. Family law attorneys have an ethical obligation to protect your rights throughout your divorce, no matter how amicable your relationship with your ex is. If you do find an attorney who’s willing to meet with both parties, this is NOT an attorney you want to do business with. Looking for representation? Book an appointment today.