One attorney for both parties? Is that allowed?

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One attorney for both parties? Is that allowed?

Potential clients often call a divorce firms asking if both parties can use just one attorney for their uncontested divorce. The potential client will explain that they and their spouse want the divorce, and those they agree on the terms and that they would prefer to use one attorney to keep the costs down. The concern revolves to a belief that if each party uses their own attorney, the case could spin out of control. In other words, a fight might start, attorney fees could accrue, the attorneys might not get along, and this could go from an easy divorce to a complex one.

While this thought of using one attorney might make sense to non-attorneys, the Model Rules of Professional Conduct forbid an attorney from representing two parties in a divorce under conflict of interest rules. In Missouri, Rule 4-1.7(a) specifically states the following:

(a) Except as provided in Rule 4-1.7(b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:
(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or
(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client, or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.

In other states, the rules are basically identical. The rule exists for a good reason. For example: potential settlement terms may be good for one party in a divorce, but bad for the other. This would put the attorney in a position of divided loyalty.

What are the options give than an attorney cannot represent both parties? It is true that one party can have representation while the other party can represent themselves. But it is never a good idea for a party in the divorce to not have an attorney representing their interests. After all, the attorneys of the other spouse cannot give them any legal advice to the unrepresented spouse.

The traditional approach is always an option where both parties retain their own attorney. In many instances, contrary to popular opinion, this approach works fine. This is especially truth where both the attorneys and the parties are working together in good faith to reach an amicable settlement.


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