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Can We Use Just One Lawyer to Get Divorced?

By Theresa Beran Kulat, Esq.

At Trinity Family Law (TFL), couples often come to us believing they have fully resolved their issues relative to dissolving their marriage and co-parenting their children. They hope to work with just one lawyer to save on attorney fees and to meet timing goals. Before we go any further, please know that, in Illinois, ethical rules prohibit one attorney from representing both spouses.

If you and your spouse have, in fact, resolved all of your financial issues (e.g., division of the marital assets and payment of support) and your parenting issues (e.g., where children will live and how you will share parenting time), it is possible to use just one attorney.

Uncontested Divorce – aka Limited Scope Legal Representation

Using one attorney for your divorce is called “limited scope representation” because the law firm is retained by one spouse only for the limited scope of drafting and having the documents entered in Court. At TFL, we call this approach an “Uncontested Divorce”. 

8 Steps to Completing an Uncontested Divorce

In our personalized educational presentation with potential clients, we explain how this approach can work in their situation. In general, here are the steps:

  1. Hire TFL. After the educational presentation, you and your spouse decide which one of you will retain TFL. That person contacts our office, and we send them the engagement agreement to sign electronically along with a payment link.
  2. Meet with TFL. The person signing the retainer is now officially TFL’s client. The other spouse is considered “pro se”, the term used for the spouse who is representing themselves. We then meet with our client to go into more detail about the terms that they both have already agreed to.  
  3. Provide relevant information and financial documents. Although you and your spouse may have already agreed on many terms, we still need supporting documentation like recent bank statements and tax returns. When possible, we ask that this information be provided electronically through a secure portal.
  4. TFL summarizes the agreements you and your spouse have already made and lists the open issues. This is also where TFL identifies any issues that you may have overlooked.
  5. You and your spouse discuss and, hopefully, reach agreement on any open items. Our client then communicates the additional/new agreements to TFL.
  6. TFL drafts the Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) to include the terms you and your spouse agreed to along with standard language the Court will want to see in the Agreement. The MSA is then sent to both you and your spouse for your review and approval. At this juncture, we remind the unrepresented spouse that they can consult with an attorney to ask questions on the terms of the MSA.
  7. You and your spouse sign the MSA.
  8. TFL files your case with the appropriate court and schedules the single court appearance to complete your divorce.  

If your spouse feels uncomfortable at any time with the Uncontested approach, we encourage them to hire a Collaborative Lawyer. If you have children, you will also need to negotiate and agree on terms of your parenting agreement.

In cases where one or the other has “concerns,” the process can vary, depending on the nature of the concern and the personality of the people involved.

In the “uncontested” process, like mediation, TFL provides general problem-solving information and guidance. We might say something like, “Often people share children’s cell phone expenses, but it is not likely that a judge would make you pay for cell phones.” If we are acting as the limited scope attorney, we also have the duty to educate our client as to the law so that they understand what they are giving up or are asking for. Sometimes, we share our opinion of the likelihood that, if one of them made a demand, they would or would not get a particular outcome from a judge.  We might help estimate what the costs of litigation might be – both the financial costs and emotional/relational costs.

Our practice is limited to out-of-court settlement. Give us a call if you would like to learn more.

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