Divorcing spouses are often looking for ways to reduce legal fees and costs. In some cases, when they’ve worked out the details of their case, the spouses want to “share” a lawyer. However, a shared attorney arrangement is simply not acceptable. When I meet with people who are interested in sharing an attorney with his or her spouse, I explain why I cannot represent both parties in the divorce for both ethical and legal reasons.
In Iowa, the rules of professional conduct do not allow a lawyer to represent both parties in a divorce. This is because the two parties in a divorce have competing interests, regardless of whether they agree on the terms. The best interests of one spouse may not be the same as the other spouse. A divorce attorney cannot do what is best for both spouses at the same time.
For example, suppose Bob and Mary have agreed upon the terms of their divorce and want to share a lawyer. Bob and Mary have decided how the property will be divided. However, each party still wants more. The attorney cannot advocate for one spouse’s interests without directly affecting the other spouse. If Bob gets more, Mary gets less.
However, you do have options to save costs. Here is what I generally suggest:
1. Mediation. A mediator is a neutral third-party who can ethically work with both parties. The mediator does not give legal advice or take sides, but helps the parties reach resolution. If spouses choose to go to mediation, they should understand they do not have legal representation. It is beneficial to hire a mediator who is also a divorce attorney. If resolution is reached, the mediator may offer to draft the settlement agreement in legal format.
2. One Party Hires an Attorney. If the spouses have agreed upon all terms of their divorce, one spouse can hire the attorney to draft and file the appropriate documents with the court. The other spouse, before signing the documents, may choose to schedule a consultation or appointment with another attorney to ensure the settlement agreement is reflective of the agreed upon terms. If the divorce involves complex finances or other issues, I highly recommend the other spouse have the settlement agreement reviewed.
Whether spouses agree to attend mediation or hire one lawyer to represent one spouse, there are affordable options available. This post is only intended to be informative and is not a substitute for comprehensive legal advice. If you have questions, please contact my office at 319-260-2096 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.