Can My Spouse and I Use the Same Lawyer in a Divorce?

We frequently hear from people who are working out their own divorce settlements amicably, and they want to hire a single lawyer to assist them in completing the divorce. They even are considering the same lawyer to advise them as to what their final settlement should look like.

The Rules of Professional Conduct that Washington State lawyers operate under state that a lawyer may not represent two clients in the same litigation if one client has any kind of claim against the other. We generally understand it to be the nature of a divorce that it necessarily involves claims by each party against the other, as both have claims to the same property. Therefore, we will generally decline to work for both parties to a divorce. What we will generally suggest is that one party can hire us to prepare the necessary papers and that they then take the papers we have prepared to the other party to have them reviewed by an independent lawyer (the prohibition on the same lawyer representing adverse clients extends to the whole law firm where the lawyer works).

While there appears to be a small exception where a lawyer “seeks to resolve potentially adverse interests by developing the parties’ mutual interests”, this also seems close to running afoul of a recent decision barring mediators from drafting the legal papers for otherwise unrepresented parties. The potential exception sounds very similar to mediating, which opens the door for future problems. Without some additional clarity on this issue, I continue to have concerns about trying to represent both parties.

What I am happy to do is to recommend Collaboratively trained attorneys (who are trained to cede control of the outcome to the clients rather than to try and take over the case) for your spouse to consult with and review the documents that we prepare.