By Elspeth Crawford
Getting divorced and looking to save money? For a lot of people, the first thought that comes to mind that you might be able to save a few bucks by hiring one divorce lawyer for both you and your partner. It's not unheard of, but buyer be warned. An attorney is supposed to be your advocate, and sharing him with your ex might compromise the attorney's ability to perform that role.
Here's what I mean. Let's say you and your partner have joint ownership of a car. As you're going through the divorce process, you will need to decide who will take full ownership of the car. Even if you both aspire to be as cooperative as possible, this is a zero sum game, and as a result, your interests are adverse to your partner. In this case, who will the attorney side with? If he sides with you, your partner will feel like he/she isn't getting the full benefit of the attorney fees that he's paying. If he sides with your partner, you will feel like you're not getting the full benefit of the attorney fees that you're paying. No matter how you toss the dice, someone is going to feel slighted.
And the potential damage of this arrangement is not limited to you and your partner. Your attorney may also pay the price. Attorneys are required, by law, to avoid conflicts of interest. This is a rule that was set in place in order to protect you - the client. But if you, the client, ask your attorney to represent both yourself and your partner, you put your attorney in a very difficult position. If the state bar association finds out about it, your attorney could be punished. He or she may be forced to pay a steep fine, or even worse, lose his or her license to practice law.
For all of these reasons, you and your partner should have separate attorneys. Sure, you could save a few dollars in attorney fees by hiring the same person, but if the underlying service doesn't live up to the price tag, is it worth it? More to the point, there are other ways that you can reduce the cost of divorce. For example, you and your partner can have a prenuptial agreement - this way, all of the contingencies will be worked through while tempers are calm. Also, you can practice the age old art of compromise. Finally, you can search for an attorney who is known for very affordable fees.
In short, there are many ways to save money on divorce, and most of them don't involve compromising the quality of the services that you're paying for.