No Conflict (of Interest): California’s Rules for Divorce Representation

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When you decide to end your marriage, you have enough things on your mind. You don’t need to worry about your attorney’s conflicts of interest, conflicts that will prevent him or her from providing you with effective representation. The divorce lawyer you choose should help you relax, not add more problems to your plate.

However, some attorneys can make your divorce harder. For example, a biased attorney can not only make your separation more stressful but can also actively harm your case. Suppose you work with a divorce lawyer who’s partial towards your spouse or biased against you. In that case, they can consciously or unconsciously perform worse. That can cause you to lose assets you’d prefer to keep, losing child custody, or being forced to pay unfair amounts of spousal support.

That’s why California recommends you and your spouse get separate, unbiased attorneys. Here’s what you need to know about divorce representation in California and how to choose the right attorney for your split.

California, Divorce Representation, and Conflict of Interest

It’s not legally required for either party to hire a lawyer during a divorce. However, in most divorces, it’s a good idea. For any marriage that involves significant property, debt, or children, attorneys are valuable resources. They’re responsible for helping you get the best possible outcome from your case, whether that’s keeping custody of your kids or retaining your intellectual property. If you work with an attorney who’s biased in favor of your partner, they can’t do the job as well as they should.

That’s why the State Bar of California has specific rules regarding conflicts of interest. According to the Bar, lawyers may not represent a client if they have a known conflict of interest regarding that client unless they receive written consent from everyone involved. The attorney also needs to reasonably believe that they can provide competent, diligent representation to both clients.

That means that if a divorce attorney has a conflict of interest and represents you or your spouse anyway, they are violating their professional responsibilities. It’s not just a bad idea to use an attorney with certain kinds of bias; it’s actively against Californian regulations.

What Constitutes a Conflict of Interest?

Attorneys can be biased in as many ways as the average person. However, conflicts of interest are a specific type of bias that need to meet particular criteria. The State Bar rules regarding conflicts of interest define them as representing a client when:

  • The representation is directly adverse to another client in the same or a separate matter.
  • There’s a significant risk their work will be worse because of their responsibilities to or relationships with another person or by the lawyer’s own interests.
  • The lawyer or law firm has a legal, business, financial, professional, or personal relationship with or responsibility to someone else involved in the case.
  • The lawyer should reasonably know that another party’s lawyer has some kind of intimate relationship with them.

In other words, attorneys can’t represent people on opposite sides of the same case. Lawyers also can’t represent people in separate cases if they are engaged in legal battles with each other. Last, they can’t take a client if they know that they have a close relationship with anyone involved in the case or the opposing party’s representation.

Examples of conflicts of interest include:

  • Representing both you and your spouse in your divorce
  • Representing you if your spouse is represented by another lawyer at their firm
  • Representing you when they’re related to your spouse
  • Representing you when they stand to benefit if your business fails

If you discover that your attorney is doing any of these things, then you should report them to the State Bar and get new representation immediately.

Why You Need an Unbiased Attorney

It’s clear why working with someone who has a conflict of interest is a bad idea. The other half of the equation is just as important, though. Working with an unbiased lawyer has benefits that will make your divorce run much more smoothly.

1. Manage Paperwork and Deadlines

A lawyer who has your best interests at heart is an invaluable resource for keeping your case on track. Your attorney can help you manage the paperwork and deadlines involved in a divorce. Choosing an unbiased legal team ensures that you’ll have someone keeping your divorce moving forward. You don’t need to worry about missing important deadlines and losing the opportunity to use your legal rights.

2. Make Your Case

Your attorney is also responsible for helping you make your case. When you work with an unbiased lawyer, they will put in the time and effort to help you get the results you want.

For instance, in divorces with large amounts of assets or complicated intellectual property concerns, your attorney must be willing to put in the work. If you want to retain your home, IP, or business, you need to be prepared to argue and negotiate for it. Having an experienced legal team that’s in your corner makes this significantly more manageable.

3. Help You Access Resources

In some separations, one partner can lose sight of the bigger picture and try to take out their feelings on the other person. It can range from petty actions like trying to claim assets their former spouse wants to keep to dangerous behaviors that put the other person at risk.

If you’re concerned that your spouse may take that path, your attorney can help you access resources to protect yourself. Whether you need a temporary restraining order or an ex parte divorce to stay safe, it will be easier to accomplish when you’re working with a lawyer who has your best interests at heart.

Choose a Team That Care About You

There are so many things that can make divorce harder. Make sure your attorney isn’t one of them. The easiest way to avoid an attorney with a conflict of interest is to be the first to hire your representation. You can trust that you’re choosing a law firm that hasn’t worked with your spouse and who has your best interests in mind. Get started today by reaching out for your free consultation.

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