The answer is a clear and unqualified “No.” One divorce lawyer cannot represent both spouses. Ethical and practical considerations absolutely stand in the way.
From an ethical point of view, a divorce attorney is required to use his best efforts to promote the interests of his client. If the lawyer is somehow representing both parties, then he is trying to advance the interests of both parties, not just his client. His duty to his client is diluted, and the client is not receiving the lawyer’s full representation. The attorney cannot have two masters, which would be the case if he were representing both parties.
From a practical point of view, dual representation could be disastrous. Instead of working for the best possible result for his client, the lawyer would be caught in the middle between the competing demands of the parties. The attorney would be looking for a middle ground and trying to compromise every issue, rather than standing up for the interests for his client. This situation really doesn’t do justice for either party.
While it is true that it would be more costly to hire two divorce lawyers than one, the additional cost is well worth it. Each party will then have a strong and vigorous advocate to protect his or her interests. If there are no complicated issues in the case, then the fee for the second attorney should not be substantial in any event. If there are complicated issues in the case, separate and independent representation is absolutely a must.
If your spouse simply refuses to hire a divorce lawyer, he is free to go without representation. In this situation, your attorney represents only you. Your spouse will act as his own lawyer (which is not a very wise thing to do).
Jay A. Frank is a senior divorce practitioner with Aronberg Goldgehn in Chicago. He has been selected as one of the top family-law attorneys in Illinois. With more than 35 years of experience, he focuses his practice on all aspects of Illinois family law.