Can a Divorcing Couple Use the Same Lawyer in the State of Michigan?

By Beverly Bird

Even if you and your spouse could legally use the same attorney to become divorced, you probably wouldn’t want to. The idea might seem attractive on the surface, because you might think that you would save on legal fees. But ultimately, it could end up costing you much more years down the line.

Even if you and your spouse could legally use the same attorney to become divorced, you probably wouldn’t want to. The idea might seem attractive on the surface, because you might think that you would save on legal fees. But ultimately, it could end up costing you much more years down the line.

Conflict of Interest

Your divorce lawyer is your advocate in an adversarial process. His job is to achieve the best possible outcome for you, his client. Even if you think your divorce is amicable, the best outcome for you may mean your spouse gets a less-than-perfect deal. When a lawyer represents two spouses, he can't protect the interests of both. He'll find himself in the position of needing to advise one spouse of issues that could potentially hurt the other. This is a conflict of interest, and the Michigan Rules of Ethics prohibit attorneys from attempting it.

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Representing Yourself in Negotiations

Just because you can’t share an attorney, this does not necessarily mean that you must retain one of your own. You can both proceed without lawyers. However, proceeding pro se, or without legal representation, usually isn't a good idea if your spouse retains counsel. Unless you have a very good working knowledge of Michigan divorce law, you're at a disadvantage. For example, if a certain law favors you, and if your spouse's attorney knows about it but you don’t, he’s under no legal obligation to inform you. Trying to represent both of you would be virtually impossible for this reason. Without this "insider knowledge," you could conceivably give up your right to an asset that you’re entitled to, and you usually can’t go back and fix this sort of thing later if you realize you made a mistake.

Trial Situations

In Michigan, few divorces go to trial. Spouses generally reach an agreement without involving the court or a judge. However, if you attempt to negotiate an agreement pro se, you might believe that you’re entitled to something to which you actually have no legal right, such as a portion of separate property your spouse brought into the marriage. If you refuse to settle until you get what you want, your divorce will go to trial. Divorce trials are complex and costly legal proceedings. In all likelihood, you would not receive the asset you were requesting anyway, if the law's not on your side. In this case, you would go through the time and expense of a trial for no gain. If you do go to trial, there's no way one lawyer can fight for both of you.

Options

It’s possible to enlist the help of an attorney without retaining him to represent you through the entire divorce. If you agree to a settlement with your spouse, and if he has an attorney and you do not, the attorney will commit the agreement to writing and submit it to the court. He’ll ask you to sign it first. You can request a copy and take it to a lawyer of your choice, paying him to simply review it and advise you about what you’re planning to sign. If the agreement is unfair in any respect, he’ll tell you. If your spouse’s attorney tells you that you’re not entitled to something you’re negotiating for, you can consult with another attorney on your own to find out if this is true.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
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References

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