In this episode, your host and guide, Attorney Leigh Sellers, discusses another question many newcomers to Splitsville have, “Can We Use the Same Attorney?”
Key insights from the episode:
1:15 – Why you can’t use the same divorce attorney
3:25 – How you both can have attorneys and minimize costs
4:37 – How having an attorney can save you time and money in the long run
6:28 – Why you should never sign documents without having them reviewed by an attorney first
The insights and views presented in “Welcome to Splitsville” are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Nor does tuning in to this podcast constitute an attorney-client relationship of any kind. If you’re ready for compassionate and reliable legal guidance on your journey through divorce, contact Leigh Sellers and her team at http://www.TouchstoneFamilyLaw.com[spp-transcript]
Hello there. Going through a divorce? Considering one? Sorry to hear that, but here you are. Welcome to Splitsville. You’ll find Splitsville to be a pretty unique place. A new world really, with its own rules, its own expectations and in many ways, its own language. But don’t worry, you have a knowledgeable guide along the way, a family law attorney with three decades of experience under her belt.
And now, here she is. Your host and guide, Leigh Sellers.
Hi everyone, and thanks for tuning into another episode of Welcome to Splitsville. I’m your host and guide, Leigh Sellers, founder of Touchstone Family Law. And, in this episode, I’ll be answering another question that many newcomers to Splitsville have, “Can we use the same attorney?” So let’s dive in.
Why can’t you and your spouse use the same attorney? I’m asked that question quite a lot. “Can’t we just use the same attorney? We’re not really fighting. We don’t need two attorneys. We just want to use the same attorney,” and every attorney is going to tell you no, that we can’t. It is against the rules of ethics for our professional code of responsibility to represent two parties with competing interest. There’s probably no clearer example of competing interest than spouses divorcing and separating. Your claims are completely against one another, so your interest are competing.
The issue is that sometimes even a benign question where you think, “Oh, this is just … I’m just asking what the law is,” is not really that straightforward. There’s not a boilerplate answer like “the light is red.” There are nuances to it, and so the way I answer the question would depend and change based on who I’m directing the answer to. There may be, oh, well, there’s two ways to do it, and this way advantages it you, and the other way advantages him or her, and so it’s just impossible. It’s an impossible situation, and it isn’t done, shouldn’t be done, and it’s not somebody trying to make your life more difficult.
Honestly, it’s nothing to be afraid of. I think often with separations and divorces, when people are asking me can they use the same attorney, and they’re wanting to use the same attorney, they’re really scared of what’s going to happen if their spouse goes and gets their own attorney. They’re really worried that bringing another attorney into the mix is going to create a battle or create a problem or make it more complicated or make it a fight, so there’s a lot of fear and distrust with the idea that if you get two attorneys that there’s no way that the situation will move forward in a consensual manner that somehow the attorneys are going to create a problem.
To be honest, that’s probably a fair characterization of a profession that is built around advocacy and arguing and debating, so I can certainly see where people would just assume that no two lawyers are going to see things the same way, and they’re just going to create a problem where one doesn’t exist, but it’s really not what happens, not in these situations.
We cannot both represent you, but there can be a way that you can both have legal advice and still minimize the expenses and cost. For example, if you’re going to hire one attorney to draft an agreement, so if it’s really a situation where you and your spouse don’t believe that you have any disagreements, you think you’re on the same page and that you both want the same outcome, and you’ve decided what the best way to resolve all of these issues are, so if you’re starting from that point where you both feel confident that you’ve made a good decision for yourselves and each other, then one attorney might be able to make that into a legally-binding document. Then attorney just review it with the other spouse and make sure that the document is actually correctly reflecting their understanding of what the agreement is.
They may have a few changes that might clarify something or what we call tweaks to make it more mutually-beneficial agreement, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a contest. It’s really just making sure that the document accurately reflects both parties and understandings. If you’ve got an agreement, that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to make sure that it’s accurate, that it doesn’t say one thing when you meant something else, so making sure that an attorney has vetted “what does this mean to you.”
A lot of times, when people are separating, and they’ve reached an agreement, they’ve got some built-in expectations or assumptions into their agreement. They just are assuming that certain things go a certain way. Often, when we explain to them, “No, that’s not actually clear. If that’s what you think is going to happen, we need to state it more explicitly,” it just goes ahead and creates space for the discussion. It creates space to expand the agreement. It’s not necessarily creating a disagreement. It’s just making sure that if the two of you are trying to reach an agreement to avoid fights that we’re avoiding not just a fight now, but we’re avoiding a fight later.
You’re really going to find that having two attorneys is the best thing for you. It’s not a negative that you can’t use the same attorney because the better the product is that you have as a result of an agreement, the less fighting you’re going to have later, and the poorer product that you enter into in a consensual manner, whether it’s a consent order or an agreement or however you do it, the more poorly drafted it is, the more trouble you’re going to have down the road when questions arise or perhaps something doesn’t play out exactly the way you expected. A consensual agreement between parties is definitely the way to go, and you’re definitely going to save money, but you want to go ahead and make sure that you both have your legal questions answered in a safe space with your own attorney in all situations and don’t really plan on using the same one.
I don’t ever think it’s a good idea in any legal setting to not get the advice of an attorney. If you’re being presented with a separation agreement, and you read it, and you think that it correctly reflects what you want, please still take it to an attorney and have them look at it and make sure that they don’t see anything that you might’ve overlooked. You may be being very generous as to what you think your spouse intends, but the other attorney is drafting it as an advocate for the client that hired them. Anywhere that the language could benefit their client, and there might be another way to word it that would benefit you, they’re going to use the language that benefits their client. That’s their job. Don’t ever assume that an attorney who’s drafted the agreement for your spouse has not done it in the best possible way for your spouse because that’s the way we do it.
If that’s who I’m hired to represent, then I draft every word of it to be the best for my client. I don’t change the terms of the agreement, but I make the language the best it can be for my client the way they’re conveying what their understanding and expectation is. I don’t give a lot of thought to what you might expect or you might think needs to be in that agreement because I’m solely working for one party.
It’s really a mistake to sign anything prepared by an attorney, even if you think you understand it without going and finding your own. I would just really encourage you not to think you understand it. Even if you’re a highly intelligent person, you could miss something because you just don’t know the law or don’t know the ramifications of the wording.
Don’t use the same attorney because no one’s going to let you, and don’t just let one of you have an attorney. That’s really the best way to do it.
So there you have it, another neighborhood of Splitsville explored. There’s still so much to learn here, so I hope you’ll tune into the next episode. While Splitsville is not a fun place to be, thankfully it is full of helpful people, valuable resources and sound advice, if you know where to look. See you next time.
The insights and presented in Welcome to Splitsville are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. Nor does tuning into this podcast constitute an attorney/client relationship of any kind. If you’re ready for compassionate and reliable legal guidance on your journey, contact Leigh Sellers and her team at touchstonefamilylaw.com.[/spp-transcript]