CAN BOTH PARTIES USE THE SAME LAWYER TO REPRESENT THEM IN A DIVORCE?
In the early 1980’s Pennsylvania adopted “no fault divorce” laws. Under these laws, couples became able to obtain a divorce without having to allege any kind of marital misconduct by the other party. Instead, parties to a divorce in Pennsylvania can move forward on one of two “no-fault” grounds: either both parties can mutually consent to a divorce, or one party may unilaterally move forward with obtaining a divorce after the couple has been separated for two years.
The adoption of these laws has made the divorce process more accessible to unrepresented parties who are subject to a non-contentious divorce and “just want out.” However, even in the most collaborative of divorces, the court system can be difficult to navigate. It’s always important to consult with an attorney to find out your rights and liabilities, and to identify all potential scenarios going forward.
Often we have potential clients call our offices asking if they, a married couple seeking a no-fault divorce, could come in and have our firm represent both parties. While it may seem that a mutual-consent divorce is merely a matter of paperwork, there are ethical and professional factors that need to be weighed. As is the case with everything law-related, the answer to this common client question is “it depends on the circumstances.”
Pennsylvania’s ethical rules allow one attorney to represent both parties to a divorce where the parties sign waivers acknowledging and authorizing the arrangement. While this arrangement may be ethically permissible under PA law, LaMonaca Law chooses not represent two adverse parties in any family law matter, including divorce.
Logistically, one attorney cannot effectively provide complete confidentiality to one spouse while also representing the others spouse’s best interests. Even in those scenarios where the divorce is straightforward and non-complicated, the possibility of a conflict of interest exists. Questions of confidentiality, fiduciary duty, and attorney/client relationship preclude effective representation of both parties by one attorney.
However, a single attorney can handle an entire matter (custody, divorce, support etc.), so long as it is clear that the attorney represents only the one party. This is something our firm does often, and it can be a very efficient means of obtaining a consent custody order, amicable divorce, and other results. In this situation, our staff of attorneys will prepare any paperwork or agreements on behalf of our client and do the necessary legwork to have everything properly signed, filed and served. We cannot give any advice to the other party, but we can assure him or her that we will uphold the highest ethical standards in our dealings with them.
If you are considering divorce but are unsure about how to begin the process, schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys. The most important thing for you and your family is to educate yourself about the process and to make a well-informed decision.
To schedule an appointment with one of our attorney’s or for further information, call us at LaMonaca Law, at (610) 892-3877.