In an effort to save money, couples often wonder whether they can use one attorney in their uncontested divorce proceedings in Georgia. In many cases, this is unwise, and each party should have proper representation in order to protect their rights. A lawyer that agrees to serve both parties is inevitably facing a conflict of interest and thus an ethical issue. While there are some isolated cases in which one party having their own attorney and the other party going unrepresented may be acceptable, in most cases both parties should have their own attorneys. A discussion of why both parties usually should have their own attorney in a Georgia uncontested divorce follows.
Divorce Mediation in Georgia
If you and your partner are seeking mediation, you may enlist the services of one lawyer to help you navigate your settlements and the divorce process in general until you have reached an agreement. However, this attorney must act as a neutral and cannot represent either party or give legal advice to the parties as their own attorneys could. The hiring of a mediator should not be confused with hiring your own divorce lawyer for legal representation. While divorce mediators in Georgia are frequently also divorce attorneys, they will have you sign an acknowledgement that they do not represent either party as an attorney in the mediation proceeding. In addition, it is advised that each party bring their own attorney to a divorce mediation, because the mere fact the parties are mediating their divorce, there are likely sensitive issues that mean each party needs the guidance of their own attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in Georgia
If you and your spouse are in complete agreement over every detail of the divorce and just need someone to draft and file the paperwork, you may use one attorney to draft and/or file the documents. However, it is important to note that the attorney can only ethically represent one of the parties. The terms of this representation should be detailed in what is common termed an Attorney Client Representation Agreement. And the parties should be wary of any any attorney that does not use an Attorney Client Representation Agreement and especially if the lawyer states that she or he can represent both spouses. Using one divorce lawyer to merely draft the divorce documents is usually not a problem where the parties are not disagreeing about assets, debts, spousal support or other issues. However, it is always advised that both parties have their own attorney to at a minimum review the documents to be signed and filed with the court. Again, it is important to understand that the attorney will still legally represent only one party (spouse), but will be filing the entire proceeding. It should be clear to both parties which spouse the attorney is representing and owes a fiduciary duty to. Thus, only one party / spouse having an attorney retained for the case should be reserved for couples who are certain that they will file an amicable and uncontested divorce.
Qualified Domestic Relations Orders in Georgia
It is not uncommon for one party to hire an attorney to draft and file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (aka QDRO) following a divorce. A QDRO is a court order for retirement benefits to be divided between the divorcing parties. The QDRO order is separate from the Final Judgment and Decree of Divorce, but is filed in the same case and totally related to the divorce case. QDROs are necessary so that neither party experienced any tax penalties in the division of the retirement benefits. the term “Qualified” refers to the aspect of the retirement benefit plan to to be divided is normally tax exempt, such as with a 401(k), IRA, Pension, etc. But again, the attorney drafting the QDRO will only be representing the party that they were retained by and have an Attorney Client Agreement with. Since a QDRO is a very complex type of court order and if not handled property, can cost you thousands of dollars in lost benefits and assets, it is important to retain your own attorney to review the QDRO, whether you are the recipient or owner of the retirement funds.
Need Your Own Georgia Uncontested Divorce Lawyer?
If you are in need of your own lawyer for a divorce, mediation or other family law case call us at 770-609-1247 to discuss your case with an experienced divorce and family law attorney. We help clients with simple and complex Georgia uncontested divorces and all types of contested divorces. We also assist with a variety of family law cases including, but not limited to child support modifications, custody modifications, name changes and contempt.