The short answer is no. It is a conflict of interest for an Indiana attorney to represent opposing parties, such as a husband and a wife in a divorce. Even if you agree, attorneys are required to protect their client’s best interests. Representing both parties in a divorce could (or would) make that an impossible task, as the parties may have conflicting interests. One lawyer can, however, save you the expense of hiring two lawyers, under certain circumstances. This blog discusses those circumstances and when paying only one lawyer might, or might not be, advisable.
Indiana’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys governs what an attorney may or may not ethically do. The rule regarding current clients and conflict of interest states, in part: “(a) …. a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if: the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client…”
The issue with one lawyer representing both parties in a divorce is considered “directly adverse.” When a rule or statute does not define a word or phrase, then that word or phrase is given its plain and ordinary meaning. “Adverse” is just another word for an opposite position. So, “directly adverse”, as it is used in this rule, would simply mean that husband and wife have an opposite position. While you may think you agree, it is possible that you are unaware of the legal consequences of parts of your agreement. Once an attorney has explained all the consequences, there may no longer be a complete agreement and conflict may arise.
When both parties truly agree on all issues, one attorney can quickly prepare the petition, agreement, and all other necessary pleadings for a divorcing couple; however, that attorney will represent only one of the parties. The non-represented party may be asked to sign an acknowledgement (i.e., that the attorney represents the interests of the soon-to-be ex) of this as well as be advised to obtain their own attorney. The attorney would then be permitted to speak with the non-represented party so long as they are clear and precise in their explanation of the status of the case or in giving answers to any legal questions. Generally, an attorney will not agree to this type of arrangement if there are minor children or any property that needs to be divided, for this reason.
Divorce can be emotional, and feelings might change overnight. This is particularly true when minor children are involved. While you may both believe that you have come up with a custody and parenting time arrangement that works for everyone, it might not work so well later. When this type of disagreement arises between divorcing parties, it can be next to impossible to resolve without court intervention. If this happens when a couple is using only one attorney, the attorney must represent the party originally agreed to as his or her client and may no longer be able to even speak with the other party.
If you are considering hiring only one lawyer for your divorce, be sure that you and your spouse can communicate reasonably well with one another and that you really do have a true agreement on all issues. If you have children or property to divide, it may be a mistake to try to use just one attorney to represent only one party. This blog was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Associates, P.C. It is for general educational purposes. It is not intended to be relied upon for any legal matter or issue. The blog is not legal advice. This is an advertisement.