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    October 10, 2023
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    Andrew Linden

Why Parties Cannot Be Represented by the Same Attorney During an Amicable Divorce in Washington State

As you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse move forward with a cooperative divorce, you may wonder whether you can simply share a divorce attorney. However, hiring one attorney to represent both of you would be a conflict of interest.

Entering into marriage requires a long-term commitment from both parties. However, unforeseen circumstances may arise, complicating the partnership and eroding the strength of the relationship. Some marriages decline after several decades, while other married couples may drift apart within months of the wedding. Although the divorce rate declined a bit between 2011 and 2021, divorce remains a viable option for those looking for a fresh and independent start. Whether one partner is wanting to end the marriage or both spouses agree that a divorce or legal separation is their best option, it’s important to understand your options for legally ending the marriage. As a “no-fault” divorce state, Washington allows couples to obtain a divorce for any reason; as long as one spouse believes that the marriage is irretrievably broken, no other grounds must be provided. Divorcing couples may agree to separate on amicable terms, seeking to navigate and finalize the proceedings outside of the courtroom. While this strategy works well for some couples, others may find greater support and success through litigation. If you and your spouse are considering an amicable divorce in the greater Seattle area, you likely have several questions about what to expect during the process. This post will highlight some of the fundamental steps you can take to pursue an amicable divorce and minimize the need for litigation. Additionally, we will explore why each party needs to hire their own attorneys to complete this legal process, even if the spouses both agree to the divorce.

Why Both Parties Need Their Own Divorce Attorneys

As you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse move forward with a cooperative divorce, you may wonder whether you can simply share a divorce attorney. The Rules of Professional Conduct that govern attorneys in Washington State prohibit a lawyer from representing two clients in the same litigation matter. Even if your case does not require litigation, you and your spouse do share claims to some of the same marital property. Hiring one attorney to represent both of you would be a conflict of interest. For example, if your spouse changes their mind about agreeing to spousal maintenance during the negotiation process, you will need to rely on your attorney to advocate for your best interests. It’s impossible for one lawyer to advocate for the best interests of both parties, as what’s best for one spouse may not be best for the other.

Divorce Basics in Washington State

First, it’s helpful to understand how the divorce process works in Washington. Ultimately, the goal of divorce is to legally end your marriage in a way that allows both parties to walk away with a “just and equitable division” of property. While the details of every divorce may differ, the process generally involves the following steps.

Completing and Filing the Petition

When one spouse wants to end the marriage, they must locate and complete the Petition for Divorce (Dissolution) and Summons forms. Next, they must file the completed petition with the court (and, if necessary, have these forms served on the other party). The court will assign a case number and establish a case schedule that sets forth various deadlines.

Observing the 90-Day Waiting Period

It’s important to recognize that Washington State mandates that those seeking a divorce observe a 90-day minimum waiting period before the court may finalize the divorce. Even if you and your spouse agree to all the terms of your separation, the mandatory waiting period still applies.

Determining Whether Temporary Orders are Necessary

In some cases, one party may want to obtain a temporary court order to prevent their spouse from contacting or subjecting them to acts of abuse, domestic violence, or verbal intimidation. Temporary Orders can offer emergency financial support, establish an interim parenting plan, or provide other forms of relief during this tumultuous and chaotic time. If you believe that you would benefit from putting a Temporary Order in place, discuss the specifics of your situation with a trusted and caring divorce attorney.

Negotiating the Terms of the Divorce

As you move through the divorce process, you will need to address several critical matters, such as the division of property and spousal maintenance. If you have children, you will also need to create a parenting plan and negotiate child support orders. Addressing these details is often the most time-consuming and contentious part of the divorce process, as emotions can run high, and disagreements may erupt at any time.

Even if you and your spouse go into these conversations with the same goals, it’s natural for disputes to crop up at various points during these negotiations. Working with a dedicated and skilled attorney is the best way to ensure that you remain focused on your goals and defend your best interests (and those of your children, if applicable) at every turn.

Finalizing the Divorce

If you and the other party work through every aspect of the divorce, you and your attorneys can submit the necessary legal documents to the court for formal approval. The judge will review the terms and finalize the divorce, provided the judge accepts the terms. However, if the parties cannot resolve their disputes on their own or through mediation, the matter may be moved to litigation. The court will oversee these legal proceedings, and the judge will issue a final ruling that finalizes the divorce. No matter what path your divorce journey takes, you can trust that your attorney will work hard to keep your future as bright as possible.

The Upsides of Pursuing an Amicable Divorce in Washington

When most people picture the divorce process, they imagine a tense courtroom battle between the spouses. However, many divorcing couples find that a cooperative divorce works well for them, as they are able to take an active role in establishing the terms of their separation. Below are just a few of the advantages of seeking a cooperative divorce in Washington State.

An Abbreviated Timeline

Since litigation matters occur in the courtroom, they must work with the court’s schedule to move forward. Unfortunately, family law courts tend to be busy, meaning that your divorce may take months (or even over a year) to move through the court system before it’s finalized. In contrast, a cooperative divorce takes place outside the court system, so you have more flexibility and control over the schedule.

The entire process may take as little as a few weeks to finalize, especially if you and your spouse are committed to working collaboratively and communicating productively along the way. What’s more, this condensed timeline often means that your divorce will be much more cost-effective than litigation.

Cultivating Mutual Respect and Moving Forward

When you and your spouse are able to discuss sensitive matters with care, empathy, and respect, you can walk away from your marriage with some form of relationship intact. Even though you are no longer part of a romantic partnership, you and your ex can still play a role in each other’s lives—this is especially important for divorcing parents who must still focus on raising their children. Cooperative divorce promotes open and honest communication, and those who participate in this process often feel more comfortable and empowered to navigate future communications and negotiations with their former spouse.

Exploring Alternatives to Litigation to Finalize Your Divorce

Just because you and the other party need to work with different attorneys does not mean that the divorce process will be contentious. Mediation offers a way for both parties to work together (and with the support of their respective attorneys) to achieve your divorce goals. This process tends to be low-conflict, as the specially-trained mediator will serve as a neutral third party to facilitate productive communication and move the parties toward a mutually agreeable resolution. Your attorney will remain by your side during all phases of this process, answering your questions and empowering you to voice your concerns as they arise. It’s entirely possible to move through the cooperative divorce process with minimal conflict, even if you and your spouse have your own legal counsel.

Discuss Your Goals With a Caring Seattle Divorce Lawyer Today

Whether your marriage has lasted for a couple of months or several decades, the prospect of divorce can seem daunting and overwhelming. However, as intimidated as you may feel at the moment, you do not have to go through this process alone. Enlisting the guidance of a knowledgeable and compassionate Seattle divorce attorney can provide you with the clarity you need to move forward with confidence. Sometimes, simply knowing that you have a dedicated legal professional in your corner can make all the difference in empowering you to take the next step. If you’re ready to start laying the groundwork for your life’s next chapter, reach out to a caring and trusted divorce attorney today.

The divorce process can seem intimidating, but working with a knowledgeable and caring attorney can give you the clarity and confidence you need to move forward. Call the Hemmat Law Group today at (206) 682-5200 to discuss your options with an experienced and empathetic Seattle divorce attorney.

We Help Good People in Bad Situations

The Hemmat Law Group (HLG) was founded in 1994 by Steven Amir Hemmat, a former DOJ Trial Attorney. We specialize in family law, supporting victims of the legal system.

Divorce and Separation

Hemmat Law Group help good people in bad situations.

Our divorce lawyers provide expert legal advice for all aspects of divorce, including child custody, support and property division. Contact us today.

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Article by Andrew Linden
Associate Attorney