In the interest of cutting costs, some couples often ask “Can you share a divorce lawyer?” After all, hiring one lawyer would cut your collective legal fee bill in half, right? So is such an option possible for divorcing couples in South Carolina? No – thank goodness! Keep reading to find out why.
Conflict of Interest
The fact that a couple cannot simply hire one attorney to represent both of them confuses some people, especially in cases where they believe they will have an amicable divorce. The reality is that no matter how cooperative you and your former spouse are, you are still opposing parties in a lawsuit and your interests are not the same.
Given this legal reality, it is actually an ethical violation for an attorney in South Carolina to represent both the husband and the wife at the same time in a divorce, regardless of how friendly everyone seems to be, because these two parties have a conflict of interest. Even if the parties believe they are in agreement, certain decisions must be made that benefit one party over another, which puts the attorney in the impossible situation of having to choose which client to favor, particularly when the best interests of the parties are in direct opposition to one another, as often occurs.
The inability to share a lawyer exists not to protect the attorney, but actually to protect the parties. When the attorney only represents one side, that party knows without a doubt that his/her lawyer exists purely to look out for him/her. This allows the client to be more honest with his/her attorney and to rest easy knowing the agreement being reached is negotiated by someone whose sole job is to look out for his/her best interest.
What if you want to limit the role that lawyers play in your divorce? Though you cannot hire one attorney to represent both you and your spouse, there are a few other ways of spending less on legal fees. First, the parties may decide that only one of them will retain an attorney. However, when there's only one attorney involved in the case, you should always make sure that they are sitting beside you – and not your spouse – so that you will know your interests are protected.
If both parties have truly already worked out a settlement on their own that covers all of the issues of their marriage, is fair and equitable to both parties, and is in the best interest of their children, they may decide to have one party hire an attorney to implement the settlement, with the other party remaining unrepresented. As mentioned above, this can be very risky if you are the one who is unrepresented, as you put yourself at the mercy of your spouse and his/her attorney. However, if you are sure the settlement reflects your original wishes and are willing to accept that risk, it can help save time and money.
Another option is to hire a single lawyer to serve as a mediator. This person will officially be neutral and will not advocate for either party. The person will assist you both in reaching a settlement, but cannot represent either party in court. This may seem like a good idea, but understand that the mediator is ethically prohibited from providing either side with any legal advice – even if the mediator knows that a party is making a horrible mistake.