8/16/2019

Can My Spouse and I Use The Same Divorce Attorney?

      “We both want to use the same divorce attorney in order to spend less money on our divorce.”   Sometimes I hear this during my first meeting with a potential client.  Sometimes our staff hears this when a potential client calls the office wanting to schedule a consultation for both parties to come and meet with an attorney together.  Or sometimes I hear this in social situations.  (I may or may not correct the speaker, depending on whether I have it in me to listen to the flood of legal questions that will surely follow after I out myself as a divorce lawyer when I’m in the middle of eating, drinking, relaxing, pulling my kids off each other, etc.)

      A divorce attorney can represent only one party in a divorce matter.  They can never (ever) represent both parties.  I know what you are thinking.  Your neighbor did it.  Your sister-in-law’s neighbor did it.  A mom in your Facebook group did this.  Therefore, I must be not telling the truth or we just do not allow this in our particular firm even though some others do.

      No firm or attorney can represent both parties in a divorce case.  There are no exceptions to that rule.  However, there are two situations in which it may appear to an outsider (or perhaps a super confused participant) that one divorce attorney is representing both parties:

1.   Mediation

      Three attorneys at our firm are divorce mediators - myself (Laura), Melissa Ruvolo, and Kelsey Mulholland.  Many of our mediation clients are separately represented by independent counsel.  Sometimes they are not, whether that is due to financial constraints or by their preference.  In mediation cases, both parties are the firm’s clients.  However, we are not legally representing either of them.

      A mediator’s job is to work with a divorcing couple to facilitate a resolution of some or all issues in their case.  When serving in this role, we must be completely neutral and objective.  We cannot give legal advice to either party other than to explain general legal concepts and procedures.  We most certainly cannot advocate for one party to the detriment of the other.  Not only are we not both parties’ lawyer, but we are no one’s lawyer.  For reasons as to why you shoudl retain a family law attorney as a mediator, check out our blog "5 Reasons to Retain a Lawyer When You Mediate Your Divorce."

2.  The Attorney Representing One Party While the Other is Self-Represented

      When a person acts without an attorney in a legal matter, they are considered self-represented or pro se (if you want to get all Latin about it).  Every now and then, we as family law attorneys have a pro se litigant on the other side.  Sometimes the person is organized, calm, profession and cooperative.  Other times, the case turns into an aggravating free-for-all, which unnecessarily costs our clients extra legal fees because we are constantly trying to keep it on track without the benefit an attorney handling the other side and keeping their client under control.

      When we do have a pleasant experience with a pro se litigant, we are often able to communicate directly with that litigant and even have productive settlement conferences.  In cases like that, we are more than happy to steer the procedural ship of the case by taking the lead on filing pleadings and other documents with the court and prompting our pro se adversary to do the same before their deadlines are missed.  I have even explained to some pro se adversaries what to expect at certain court appearances such as Case Management Conferences and Uncontested Hearings in order to ease their nerves a bit (ok, only if they were super nice to me and gave me little to no grief until that point).  However, at all times, we make it clear to that person we represent only their spouse and that we can never give them legal advice.

      A good matrimonial attorney can explain various ways you can save money on your legal fees in your divorce case.  It just so happens that both parties being represented by the same attorney is not one of them.  If you would like to schedule a consultation to speak to our attorneys about your divorce matter, click here.

 

Blog authored by Laura Ruvolo Lipp, Esq., partner and co-owner of Ruvolo Law Group, LLC.