When spouses separate, there may be many legal issues that arise in connection with their marital separation, including child custody, child support, spousal support, and equitable distribution of marital property and debts, as well as the actual “absolute” divorce. Divorcing spouses often look for ways to reduce their legal expenses and may wonder if they can use one attorney to prepare their separation agreement and/or obtain their divorce. In North Carolina, the answer is “no.”
Even if the divorcing spouses have been able to reach an agreement between themselves on some or all of the issues arising from their marital separation, spouses who have separated, or intend to separate, have competing interests so they should each retain their own legal counsel. Ethical considerations prevent an attorney from representing two or more parties who have conflicting interests. Therefore, if the divorcing parties have reached a full or partial agreement on issues related to their separation and divorce, one party may retain an attorney to prepare a separation agreement that reflects the parties’ agreement and prepare any documents related to obtaining the divorce. However, the attorney can only give legal advice to the party who has retained the attorney. The other party should consult with his/her own attorney before signing an agreement or any other legal document. If you do not obtain your own attorney, you may be waiving rights that you do not know you have, or do not understand that you are waving, or you may be agreeing to something without fully understanding its legal ramifications.
Entry of a judgment of divorce has serious legal consequences. For example, claims for postseparation support, alimony, and equitable distribution are barred if they are not resolved or pending before the court at the time the judgment of divorce is entered.