Divorce is an expensive process, even without an attorney. The cost of paying for two separate sets of living expenses will often stretch a former couple’s budget to the limit, and there may not be much cash leftover for additional expenses. When this is the case, some couples agree to share a divorce attorney in order to save money. While this may work if a divorce is conflict-free, for most divorcing couples it is a bad idea.
Conflicts of Interest
Attorneys have a legal and ethical obligation to protect the interests of their clients. While you and your spouse may agree on most issues and may honestly believe that you can work out your divorce amicably, there will almost always be some source of conflict which must be resolved during a divorce case.
When conflicts arise, an attorney cannot adequately protect each spouse’s individual interests. For example, one spouse may want more child or spousal support than the other is willing to pay. In that situation, the attorney would have an obligation to both get as much support as possible for one spouse and prevent the other spouse from paying more support than is strictly necessary.
For this reason, most attorneys will refuse to represent both parties in a divorce case. Even if the attorney does agree to represent both sides, the situation will often end up being unfair to one spouse (usually, the spouse not paying the attorney’s bills).
Mediation Can Help
When money is a concern, or when a divorce case is relatively simple, a popular option for divorcing couples is to hire one attorney as an independent mediator. In this situation, an attorney/mediator can give assistance to both parties while remaining neutral.
In this situation, the attorney/mediator would give legal assistance and would help the spouses gather information, identify potential sources of conflict, and create potential options for a divorce settlement. However, the attorney/mediator would not be able to give legal advice to either party, and both spouses would have to make decisions on their own. Both sides would be educated about the law and their obligations, but the responsibility for making decisions would be each person’s alone.
If the parties had a specific legal question about their obligations after mediation, each person would have to contact their own attorney for advice. In addition, the attorney/mediator will likely recommend that each party have an outside attorney review the final settlement and check for any potential issues.
Independent Legal Advice—The Best Option
During a divorce, the parties are required to negotiate an agreement about issues which may affect the rest of their lives. From child custody to asset division, failing to adequately protect your interests may mean losing out on important legal rights down the road.
For that reason, it is important to hire an attorney that you can trust to represent your interests without potential conflicts. Even though the cost may seem high at first, it is usually better to spend money up front than it is to have to hire an attorney to fix mistakes later on.
At Pacific Northwest Family Law, our attorneys use collaboration, negotiation, and mediation to help spouses communicate during the divorce process and reach agreements they can both live with. By using these services, you can work out a divorce decree or parenting plan which fits everyone’s needs without the unnecessary costs of fighting in court.
For help with your situation, contact us today by calling 509-572-3700.