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Rhode Island Superior Court Addresses Attorneys’ Conflicts of Interests in Divorce Cases

The Rhode Island Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern the practice of law in the state, set standards defining when it is inappropriate for an attorney to represent a client based on conflicts of interests. Generally, an attorney cannot represent a client in an action against a former client of theirs if the issues addressed are substantially similar to those of the previous case. The application of these rules can be difficult in divorce cases, as one party often tries to retain an attorney who may have represented the couple in other matters during the marriage. The Providence division of the Rhode Island Superior Court recently addressed a motion to disqualify one party’s attorneys in a divorce and subsequent cases based on alleged conflicts of interests.

According to the facts discussed in the judicial ruling, the parties to the present case were married in 2006 and began discussing divorce in 2017. The husband retained an attorney to represent him in the divorce proceeding. The parties attempted to negotiate a settlement through the husband’s attorney, but it ultimately fell through and the husband filed for divorce in 2020. The plaintiff attempted to have the husband’s attorney disqualified from the case, as she claimed that he represented her at earlier stages of the negotiation, and there was a conflict of interests in the attorney’s representation of the husband. The plaintiff’s attempts to have the defendant’s attorney disqualified and disciplined for representing the husband in the divorce ultimately failed, and the divorce was finalized in January 2022.

In March 2022, the plaintiff filed a separate case against her ex-husband. This case alleged that the husband assaulted her during the marriage, and she sought financial damages from him as compensation for his alleged conduct. The husband retained his same divorce attorney to represent him in this claim. The plaintiff then filed a motion to disqualify the husband’s attorney, arguing that there was a conflict of interest based on their previous interactions. The Superior court rejected the plaintiff’s arguments, finding that the defendant’s attorney never represented the plaintiff in any issue that was substantially related to her claims against her ex-husband. The plaintiff’s motion was denied. As a result of this ruling, the defendant’s attorney will be permitted to represent him in the assault case.

If one party to a divorce retains an attorney that represented the married couple previously in business or other matters, there is a high likelihood that the attorney has a conflict of interests and should not take the case. An attorney who had access to confidential information about the married couple may be in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if they use that information in representing one of the parties against the other in a divorce. Attorneys should be diligent in performing conflict checks, and if they use privileged information in a way that violates the Rules of Professional Conduct, there should be consequences.

If you have any questions about a Rhode Island divorce, finding an honest and qualified Rhode Island family law attorney may seem difficult. The ethical and experienced divorce and child custody lawyers working with Bilodeau Capalbo, LLP understand the importance of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and we won’t hesitate to challenge any unethical conduct pursued by opposing counsel. If you have questions about a Rhode Island property or real estate issue, call us at 401-300-4055 for a free consultation.

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