Can one attorney represent both parties in a divorce?

by: Kristin Arnett

02/19/2016 08:11 AM EST
  family law  

In situations where both parties want to end their marriage and agree to the settlement terms, the parties often wonder whether they can hire one lawyer to handle the case. This request is usually made to help keep down the legal costs.

The rules of ethics for Michigan attorneys, however, do not permit lawyers to represent both parties in a divorce. 

Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7 says a lawyer “shall not” represent a client if the representation of that client will be directly adverse to another client. A conflict of interest would arise when an attorney attempts to represent the interests of both parties.

The reason for this ethics rule is that loyalty to the client is essential to a lawyer’s relationship with the client. For example, what if the settlement terms in a divorce are more beneficial for one party than the other? If only one attorney represents both parties, this would put the lawyer in a position of divided loyalty.

In general, the parties in a divorce need to hire their own lawyer, to advise them based on their own, unique interests. Contrary to what some people might think, the traditional approach of each party retaining their own attorney typically works just fine, especially when the divorce is uncontested, and the lawyers and the parties work together in good faith to finalize a fair settlement.

With that said, there are some ways that parties can defray the legal costs associated with a divorce.

Where the parties are agreeable on the divorce terms, one party can retain an attorney early in the process, while the other party waits. That attorney can draft the required documents, beginning with the divorce complaint that starts the process. The other party can then hire a lawyer later, to review the documents that have been prepared. 

Parties also have the right to represent themselves in a divorce. However, it is not advisable that they do so, particularly if the other party has hired an attorney and there are children involved, or significant property or business interests are at stake.

If a party does decide to represent himself or herself in a divorce and has negotiated what they believe is a fair settlement, they should never sign anything until they have the documents reviewed by a lawyer. An attorney can be retained for the limited purpose of only reviewing the divorce documents.

Kristin Arnett is an attorney at Newburg Law who is experienced in all aspects of family law, including divorce, child and spousal support, custody and parenting time, and mediation. Contact us today for a consultation.