You’ve made the decision that your relationship has come to an end and you would you like to seek a divorce, so the time has come to instruct a solicitor. During the course of their relationship, most couple’s involvement with lawyers will have been joint, they will have jointly instructed the same conveyancer when they bought their home and in all likelihood, used the same solicitor when they prepared their wills. It therefore seems a logical step, that if they have amicably agreed to end their marriage that they should instruct the same solicitor to deal with the formal aspects of ending their marriage.
Whilst, on the face of it, it may seem like a good idea to instruct the same solicitor if matters are agreed, there are a number of reasons why this is not appropriate and why solicitors are not permitted to act for both parties.
When you instruct a solicitor, you do so because you want a professional to ensure that the agreement you reach is fair and achieves the best outcome possible. For example, when you agreed to purchase your house you made an offer to the estate agent and the vendor agreed to sell it to you for that price, but on further investigation your solicitor found there to be asbestos in the walls and so you negotiated a reduction to the sale price to allow you to deal with the problem. The same is true of a divorce settlement, you and your spouse may have agreed how you want to deal with your finances post-separation and where the children should live, but if a solicitor were to review your agreement and found there to be flaws with it, for reasons perhaps you would not have considered, you would expect them to tell you and help you renegotiate a more favourable agreement. Liken this to the house purchase, the vendor will want the highest price possible and you would want the lowest price possible, and you can see that both sides have different perspectives on how to achieve the end goal. Where differing points of a view arise, a single solicitor would be placed in a very difficult situation as rules relating to conflicts of interest prevents them from acting, but two separate solicitors would be able to advise their individual clients about how best to achieve their goal.
The breakdown of a relationship is never an easy time, and agreements are often reached between parties because both simply want draw a line under their past and move forward. However, ten years’ from now, would you be happy with the agreement you’ve reached on your own? By its very nature, divorce often requires sensitive matters to be discussed, and whilst you may not feel comfortable raising these points with your spouse in person but raising the matters that are important to you through a solicitor feels very different. We may all like to think that we can speak openly with our partners and that there are no secrets, but sometimes questions needs to be asked. It is therefore imperative that a client is able to talk freely and openly with their solicitor, having a forum to discuss issues that really matter to you can make a critical difference to the overall settlement. It is therefore worth each of you investing the time and money in professional advice now rather than regretting the decisions you made in the future.
Separate representation allows for points of contention to be raised appropriately which, hopefully, results in a more favourable outcome for all those involved!