You and your spouse realize that the marriage is at an end. You agree on who should have the house, where the kids should live, and how much you will have to live on once the divorce is final. Do you need to hire lawyers, or will it make the process more expensive and create unnecessary conflict?
Spouses who attempt a DIY divorce may be on friendly terms, but many soon find that the legal aspects of separation require professional guidance. You may need a lawyer to answer legal questions, draw up the paperwork, and finalize the divorce at the courthouse. So now the question becomes: can a couple have just one Washington divorce lawyer for the two of them?
One Divorce Lawyer, Two Attorneys, or None?
Even in an uncontested Washington State molldivorce, spouses are legally considered opposing parties in the case. Therefore, it’s unethical for one lawyer to represent both spouses. If one spouse hires a lawyer “for the divorce,” that lawyer has a duty to provide legal advice only to the spouse whose name is on the representation contract.
The hiring spouse has the benefit of:
- Attorney-client privilege. The lawyer representing one spouse in an uncontested divorce can draft the petition, oversee the parenting plan, and submit the decree and other papers at the courthouse. However, it’s up to the client whether or not to include their spouse in meetings with the lawyer or to share information and legal advice.
- Strategy. The hiring spouse might not intend to gain an advantage, but as the sole client, they will still benefit from the lawyer's knowledge, experience, and guidance. The lawyer must protect the client’s best interests, and legal advice can lead to a change of heart regarding child custody or the division of assets.
- Financial advice. Just because you agree to split up doesn't mean you have the same ideas about splitting your property. A lawyer will perform due diligence in discovering all assets and establishing ownership, identifying any community property their client may have a claim to.
In divorce proceedings, there's no “we” in hiring an attorney. You each need your own lawyer to advise you. If your spouse has a lawyer and you don’t, you’ll be left to navigate the law, divorce finances, and custody arrangements on your own at a time of high emotional upheaval.
Both Spouses May Benefit From Divorce Through Mediation in Washington State
If you and your spouse are on good terms and want to save on divorce costs, you are good candidates for mediation. In divorce mediation, the mediator remains neutral, allowing them to assist both parties. The mediator, typically a lawyer or retired judge, informs both spouses about the application of the law without taking sides. The court will require you to go to mediation.
A mediator helps spouses, identify any problems that need to be resolved, and educate them on their options for settlement. Through mediation, spouses have greater control of the outcome because they can negotiate creative solutions to their problems. Mediation is also confidential, so if negotiations break down and spouses go to court, the court won’t know what was discussed in mediation. Because the mediator does not owe the parties a fiduciary duty to look out for them, it is always a good idea to go to mediation with your lawyer.
Once the settlement document is signed, it will be legally binding—and spouses cannot go back to the court and change the terms without good reason.
Get Advice From a Washington State Divorce Attorney Sooner Rather Than Later
Divorce mediation typically costs much less than litigation, even with the costs of having an attorney review the settlement. At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, we can protect your interests every step of the way or review your agreement to make sure decisions are well-informed.
As your representative, we will go over the terms of your divorce carefully to make sure you will be able to move on from your divorce with peace of mind. Call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny at 425-460-0550 today to arrange a private consultation, or read through our free guide, 9 Urban Myths About Divorce That Can Hurt You.