Can an Attorney Represent Both Parties in a Divorce?

Do I Need a Divorce Lawyer if We Agree on Everything?

A divorce can be ugly and messy, but it doesn’t have to. Many spouses filing for divorce in New York are able to reach mutually satisfying agreements in a respectful and amicable way, but they don’t typically do it alone. Spouses are always advised to retain a divorce lawyer, even if they agree on everything in their divorce, also referred to as “uncontested divorce.”

Just because you and your spouse agree on everything doesn’t mean you should handle your divorce alone. The laws, court processes, and paperwork involved in New York divorce proceedings can be complicated and tricky. One minor error in your case could carry heft costs, impacting your rights to alimony, child custody, child support, marital property, and more. As such, it is always in your best interests to hire a lawyer for your divorce, regardless of whether or not you and your spouse agree on all terms.

Even if an attorney wanted to represent both parties in a divorce, they are not allowed to because doing so would be a conflict of interest.

When Can an Attorney Represent Multiple Clients in a Case?

With the above information in mind, you may wonder when a lawyer IS allowed to represent both parties in a case. Rule 1.7 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct answers this question, stating that “ lawyer shall not represent a client if a reasonable lawyer would conclude that … the representation will involve the lawyer in representing differing interests.”

So, if a reasonable lawyer believes that their representation will not involve representing differing interests, they may proceed to represent both parties.

However, two or more clients with differing interests may be able to waive the conflict and consent to a lawyer’s simultaneous representation of them. Clients may waive the conflict and give informed consent in writing if the following conditions are met:

  • the lawyer reasonably believes that she will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client;
  • the representation is not prohibited by law; and
  • the representation does not involve the assertion of a claim by one client against another client represented by the lawyer in the same litigation or other proceeding before a tribunal

With this in mind, divorcing spouses need to hire their own separate attorneys. As soon as one spouse initiates a divorce case, both spouses are considered opposing parties with differing interests. So, lawyers would violate their ethics code by representing two spouses in a divorce matter.

Can a Divorce Lawyer Mediate for Both Spouses?

A mediator is a neutral, third-party professional who helps divorcing spouses reach agreements in matters such as child custody, child support, alimony, property division, and more. Essentially, if two spouses can’t agree on any or all terms of their divorce, they can utilize mediation as an option for resolution rather than court litigation.

Since a mediator is unbiased, an attorney-mediator can ethically help divorcing spouses identify issues in their divorce, learn the laws, formulate agreements, complete paperwork, and draft settlements. Attorney-mediators are mediators who are also licensed and certified attorneys. While attorney-mediators can’t make decisions for spouses nor ensure those decisions are fair, they can, however, help conflicting parties resolve their issues and finalize agreements, for example.

What If I Started My Case without a Lawyer, but Decide that I Really Need a Lawyer?

It’s not too late to hire a lawyer for your divorce. While you’re better off hiring a divorce attorney at the beginning of the process, you are not without options if you choose to retain representation later on. Your lawyer should practice matrimonial law and prepare you for their role in the divorce process. They will first file a notice of appearance and notify the other party that they will represent you. As such, expect your attorney to speak for you, file papers for you, and advocate for your best interests every step of the way.

Allow us to be your champion. When you call our Westchester County divorce attorney at (845) 605-4330, we can help formulate a plan of action to help you achieve your goals as seamlessly as possible. We look forward to working with you.

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