In the United States, 3.4 of every 1,000 people divorce each year, according to October 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You certainly don’t imagine, on the happiest day of your life, that the man messily feeding you the first piece of wedding cake could turn into a bitter, vengeful enemy in the courtroom. But, if your happy ending looks unlikely, naivete about the divorce process — such as thinking you’ll save money and time by sharing a lawyer — can bring high costs, both emotional and financial.
While U.S. divorce laws vary, some states have rules that, for the most part, bar attorneys from representing both the petitioner and the respondent. The American Bar Association, in its Model Rules of Professional Conduct, heavily discourages lawyers from representing opposing clients unless the attorney “will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client.”
Bottom line, you can’t assume a lawyer working for both of you will watch out for your interests if they conflict with your soon-to-be-ex’s interests. In your rush to get the divorce over and done with, you may sign away your rights or agree to a deal that hurts you later. An attorney working just for you helps you see that, before it’s too late.
Many people considering a one-attorney divorce think of it as a cheaper way to pull the plug on the marriage. Divorce’s overall expense is both short- and long-term, however, and trying to save a buck now could cost you dearly down the line. For example, maybe your husband thinks you should get no alimony, while you feel you need more cash to keep the kids from bearing the brunt of the divorce.
Meeting in the middle — what “compromise” usually entails — could leave you scrounging for money each month. And, as LegalExplorer.com points out, going back to court later because you’re unhappy with the alimony agreement you made via a shared attorney, may not fly, as “the court can’t revise a judgment that waives maintenance.” You can, however, petition the court for changes in child support.
Custody decisions — who do the kids live with, when do they see each parent, who pays for what — rank among the most contentious in a divorce. Parents in agreement on child custody and visitation might avoid court entirely, even if they have separate attorneys, reports Nolo.com. If you and the kids’ dad don’t agree on visitation, ask yourself if you’re OK with a 50/50 visitation schedule; if not, you can’t risk sharing an attorney.