Acting for both sides during a divorce has always historically been avoided by most solicitors. Why? Well, when it comes to sorting out the finances, many solicitors feel that it is impossible to act in the best interests of both spouses.
However, a change may well be on the horizon. Resolution, a community of professionals in family justice, has proposed that in some cases, solicitors should consider acting for both parties. The idea being that this would help to reduce costs and minimise lengthy disputes.
What are the possible benefits to the change? And what are the concerns?
The possible benefits
For divorcing couples who truly believe their split will be amicable, having the same solicitor manage the divorce could have benefits. There’s the potential for less back and forth, more openness and a non-confrontational approach to the separation as a whole.
Supporters of the proposed change suggest that this will lead to less conflict, less time spent in court or negotiating an agreement and, importantly, less money spent on legal advice.
Concerns and conflicts
Whilst the rationale behind the proposals is easy to see, the fact remains that even in the most amicable of circumstances, things are rarely ever completely straightforward. No matter how good-natured a separation is, or how minimal the assets and other issues are, there is always the possibility that things won’t remain as simple or as amiable as things progress.
If a solicitor is acting for both sides, is it really possible for them to provide the kind of legal advice that’s truly in the best interests of both clients? If one spouse has a low income and mortgage capacity and the other spouse a much higher income and mortgage capacity, the financially weaker spouse may need more of the assets, but how much more is fair?
It is in the financially weaker spouse’s interests to get as much more of the assets as they can but this would mean the financially stronger spouse would get less. Could the solicitor act in both spouse’s best interests in scenarios like this
What if a dispute arises? What if one party goes back on a previous agreement? What if it transpires that there are issues of coercive control or abuse within the relationship? Potential pitfalls have to be taken into account.
The need for independent legal advice
As a client, our view is that seeking independent legal advice is the only way to ensure that your best interests are being met and safeguarded. Without it, key considerations/protections for you could be missed resulting in the whole process taking longer and costing more in the long run. This is why Harrogate Family Law will not act for both sides.
What does the future hold?
There have already been instances where a solicitor has acted for both sides, including a service offered by Withers, the barrister-led Divorce Surgery, and the unregulated business, Amicable. A senior High Court judge has declared that this practice did not break conflict of interest, making it a real possibility for other law firms to follow suit in future.
As with everything in family law, each case is different and needs to be treated on its merits. What might be appropriate in one case might not be appropriate for another.
If you need help with your family law matter, Harrogate Family Law can offer expert advice and guidance. Get in touch with us today to find out more about how we can work together.