Can My Spouse and I Share a Divorce Attorney in South Carolina?
Divorce is a difficult and emotional process for anyone to go through, and oftentimes couples who believe they can agree on everything (or who just might not realize what all goes on during the divorce process) think it will be easier on everyone if they share a divorce attorney. While this may seem like a way to possibly save money and simplify the process, it also creates conflicts of interest that can jeopardize equitable outcomes, not to mention it is a huge “no-no” according to the ethical rules all South Carolina attorneys must adhere to when practicing law.
In this article, we will examine the legality and practical aspects that have led to the prohibition against sharing a divorce attorney in South Carolina. According to our ethical rules, family court procedures, and case law, both parties in a divorce have the right to their own individual legal representation. South Carolina is classified as a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that either party can file for divorce after being separated for more than one year, even without having to prove wrongdoing on the part of the other. However, no matter how “easy” that may make getting a divorce sound, it doesn’t necessarily mean that both parties can share the same lawyer through the divorce process.
Conflicts of Interest Must Be Avoided
One of the main reasons why it is not recommended to share a lawyer in a divorce case is the potential for conflicts of interest. A divorce attorney, once hired by a party to the action, has a legal and ethical obligation to act in the best interests of their client. It is exceedingly difficult to do this if one attorney is representing both parties who are opposing each other in a divorce action – an adversarial action on its face.
A divorce action is, at its core, a case involving two people who have joined their lives through marriage but have since decided that they each wish to not be married anymore and want to return to living their own single life, with no (or little) remaining ties between them. It is inevitable that the interests of one spouse may eventually conflict with the interests of the other since they are essentially dividing up a life they built together.
If both parties were represented by one attorney, it could easily lead to a breach of confidentiality or inappropriate negotiations between the spouses and their shared attorney, which would ultimately hurt the outcome for one or both clients.
When Disagreements Arise, One Lawyer Can’t Negotiate for Both Sides
Moreover, both parties may not agree on all the issues related to their divorce case. Issues like property division, division of financial resources and debt obligations, child custody, child support, and alimony can be, and often are, major sticking points in most divorces. Even when both spouses believe they will agree on all of these issues when they initially separate, if at any point in time, one spouse’s interests change, the shared attorney would not be in a position to represent both parties effectively and properly. In turn, this would lead to compromises that would further complicate the case and create possible resentment that would make the case more difficult to resolve, not to mention a potential malpractice case for the attorney at the center of it all.
Furthermore, an often-overlooked aspect by clients in these situations is how would one attorney possibly handle any contested hearing that would be held if the parties’ settlement agreements did fall apart. While it may be tempting to save a bunch of money by using only one attorney, if your marriage has lasted any significant length of time, and you and your spouse have accumulated any amount of assets or debts, and especially if you have children with your spouse, the best policy is always for both parties to hire their own attorney to represent their own interests.
If both of you truly do agree on everything, then your expenses should be easy to contain since neither of you will be increasing the fees by fighting over every issue that must be addressed.
Save Money by Avoiding Trial
One of the best ways to save money during a divorce is not by sharing an attorney but rather by simply avoiding the trial process altogether. As described above, when you and your spouse truly do agree on everything, you can divorce without spending tons of money by simply hiring your own attorneys to draft the paperwork and guide you through the process quickly, effectively, and cost-efficiently.
However, even if disagreements come up, a great way to save money is to use the mediation process to resolve those differences instead of having contested court hearings where one or both of you are asking a judge to resolve the differences for you. Preparing for mediation may seem tedious, and when you must also pay a mediator, you might be wondering how that saves any money at all, but typically speaking, investing in a day of mediation, especially with a highly respected and experienced family court mediator, is typically thousands of dollars less than a contested court hearing where the end result is likely not what either party really wanted in the first place.
In conclusion, it is not only not recommended that couples share an attorney in a divorce case in South Carolina, but it is also highly unethical for an attorney to do so and will not be allowed by the family court should the judge learn about it. While it may appear more economical and that it will save time, it has the potential to cause conflicts of interest that would compromise an equitable outcome for one or both parties. Both parties in the divorce should seek individual legal counsel, which will help ensure that their interests and rights are protected throughout the divorce process. It’s crucial to choose an experienced and trustworthy attorney to represent you and make sure that the legal proceedings go smoothly.
If you and your spouse are considering divorce, don’t make any decisions about how to proceed before talking with a trusted attorney in your area. Your divorce and any settlement you create will be subject to your state’s divorce laws. Without discussing your situation with an attorney, your agreement may not be what you want or what is beneficial to your future. If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like J. Benjamin Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Ben Stevens has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as divorce, separation, alimony, and child custody. Our firm is well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
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ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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