Can a Couple Use The Same Lawyer For a Divorce?
Some couples headed toward an amicable divorce may wonder whether they can hire one attorney to handle their legal needs. This sounds efficient. But in North Carolina, one attorney cannot ethically represent both individuals involved in a divorce case.
Divorce or legal separation involves two people who have different interests, whether they realize it or not. A divorce attorney would have a conflict of interest in trying to represent both parties in a divorce proceeding, even an uncontested divorce.
Technically, a couple in North Carolina does not need a lawyer to file for divorce and obtain a court order dissolving their marriage. But, if one spouse eventually chooses to be represented by an attorney, that individual has a distinct advantage over the other in having the terms of the divorce structured in their favor.
At Charles R. Ullman & Associates, we understand the many challenges facing someone who plans to get a divorce. There are multiple decisions in separation and divorce that will affect your financial future and emotional health, and the health of any children involved, for years to come.
It is essential to have the guidance of a trusted divorce lawyer who will fight for your best interests and seek the most favorable outcome for you.
You can depend on the experience of Charles R. Ullman & Associates to guide you through the process of separation and divorce. A knowledgeable attorney from our Raleigh family law firm can help you make well-founded decisions and avoid accepting provisions in a divorce agreement that you may regret later. Please contact us today to discuss your case.
Opposition & Conflicts of Interest in an N.C. Divorce
Obtaining an absolute divorce in North Carolina is a legal process that requires one party to file a civil lawsuit against the other, which the second party must answer. Typically, lawyers representing each spouse advise the parties as they work to develop a separation agreement.
The couple may take the separation agreement that they have negotiated to court for the judge to review and ratify.
Among the topics to be decided and codified in a separation agreement are:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Equitable distribution of marital property
- Division of debts
If any issue among the topics listed above is in dispute, one attorney cannot advocate for the interests of both parties. Even if the couple initially has an equitable plan in mind for their divorce, conflicts can arise as discussions proceed on matters pertaining to money, spousal support, child custody, and the division of personal property or real estate.
A lawyer who has agreed to represent both sides has opened the door to a malpractice claim if either party decides later that they were harmed by their attorney’s advice.
If there is a possibility of a serious conflict of interest, any decisions or agreements made will be considered to be the product of undue influence. The court will not accept them. You’ll have wasted time and money.
Once the judge hands down a divorce decree, its contents constitute a legal order that is difficult to change. If you have agreed to something that does not meet your needs or does not provide you with something you expected, little can be done.
For example, you are prohibited from seeking post-separation support (alimony) or changes to how your property was divided if your requests or objections were not pending before the court when the divorce order was entered. It is important to have an attorney advising you about the terms of the separation agreement.
When a Divorce Lawyer Acts as a Mediator for a Couple
Both parties to a divorce may engage a single attorney as a mediator, an impartial third party who helps the couple resolve issues and craft a settlement agreement. Couples may be referred to mediation by the North Carolina courts or they may choose to start mediation on their own.
A mediator is neutral and does not decide who is right or wrong. Instead, a mediator facilitates negotiations between two people who would likely have difficulty working things out on their own. Mediators are trained to identify the points of contention and focus on ways to resolve the conflicts and move beyond them, instead of continuing to revisit old battles.
Some couples resort to mediation when work between the two of them and their respective lawyers has stalled. They can choose whether to have their attorneys attend mediation sessions to advise them and protect their interests.
Mediation services offered by Charles R. Ullman & Associates can help a couple:
- Save time and money
- Decide issues themselves instead of having a judge impose decisions
- Keep their divorce proceedings private. Mediations remain confidential, whereas the court is an open forum
- Come to an agreement they are more likely to honor because it was voluntary
- Avoid the need for modifications to the agreement, which avoids future legal expenses.
Many divorce negotiations in which spouses have been unable to find a middle ground can be concluded successfully with the help of a skilled mediator.
Why Is It a Good Idea to Have a North Carolina Divorce Lawyer?
North Carolina is a no-fault divorce state. That means that you do not need to prove marital fault in order to obtain a divorce. After a year of living separately and apart, you may file for divorce with the court.
There is legal paperwork required and a waiting period for divorce papers to be served on your estranged spouse, and for him or her to respond. Then, unless you want to leave it up to a busy judge who knows nothing about you and your needs, the work begins.
As part of the divorce process, you must separate your and your spouse’s financial assets and obligations, equitably divide real and personal property, and for many couples, determine how to share parenting and childcare duties and their costs.
Regardless of the circumstances of your divorce, it is a stressful and emotional undertaking requiring long-lasting decisions. There also are legal rights each of you has and legal requirements you must meet.
It is not unusual for one spouse to try to manipulate the other, withhold financial information, or skirt proper legal procedures to gain an advantage in a divorce. In any marriage, one spouse is typically more adept than the other with the types of issues that must be scrutinized to ensure an equitable divorce agreement. This may be because they’ve always handled the family finances or there is an actual difference in capacity.
An experienced divorce attorney advocates for their clients. Our attorneys at Charles R. Ullman & Associates believe in collaborative divorce when it is possible. In collaborative divorce, both parties and their lawyers work together to decide issues surrounding the divorce.
Meanwhile, we help you assert your rights to ensure the equitable distribution of marital property and to seek adequate alimony and child support if warranted.
If divorce proceedings become contentious, having an experienced divorce attorney in your corner means you have a trained legal professional present to focus on your finances and property rights and help you understand the long-term implications of the decisions you are considering.
Your attorney will stand firm to protect your rights and ensure your needs are considered in negotiations and in court if your divorce case goes to trial.
In most cases, either spouse in a divorce will benefit from experienced legal guidance. A skilled divorce attorney protects their client’s best interests and helps them avoid agreeing to decisions about personal and/or property matters that may cost them money down the road.
Contact a North Carolina Divorce Lawyer
North Carolina’s no-fault divorce laws make it possible for couples to dissolve a marriage without one spouse having to prove the other was to blame for the end of the marriage. Still, there are legal nuances involved in the process.
The best way to ensure your rights are protected and your interests are met in a divorce is to work with an experienced attorney who understands North Carolina divorce law and is focused solely on what is best for you.
Charles R. Ullman & Associates is available to advocate for you. Charles Ullman is recognized by the North Carolina State Bar as a Board-Certified Specialist in Family Law, a designation that only a small portion of attorneys in the state have achieved. He is a trained collaborative divorce attorney, as well as a practicing family law arbitrator.
For help with your divorce, simply contact us today and schedule a confidential review of your case.