The Florida Bar
June 1, 1985
An attorney representing an ex-wife in post-dissolution-of-marriage proceedings is not obligated to withdraw when the ex-husband joins a group of property owners represented by the attorney's partner in an unrelated matter involving a municipal ordinance.

CPR: Canon 5

Chairman Mead stated the opinion of the committee:

The inquiring attorney has represented an ex-wife over a period of eight years in connection with proceedings subsequent to a dissolution of marriage. The case is unusually complex due to the ex-husband's wealth. Presently pending are motions for contempt, for interpretations of the settlement agreement, the ex-wife's right to be reimbursed for maintenance of the residence, etc.

A group of property owners has retained a third party lawyer for representation in connection with possible litigation involving the validity of a proposed municipal ordinance that would require owners of large residential properties to install fire detection devices. One of the inquiring attorney's partners has now been consulted by this lawyer and asked to assist in representing the property owners in the above case. The ex-husband, whose holdings include rental properties that would be affected by the ordinance, has announced his intention to join the group in challenging the ordinance and he has suggested that, as a result of his membership in this group, the inquiring attorney should cease his representation of the ex-wife. It appears that the ex-wife has limited resources and would be severely prejudiced if required to obtain new counsel.

The attorney states that the issues involved in the representation of the property owners in no way relate to any issues in the post-dissolution proceedings, nor will the ex-husband be required to disclose any information to the attorneys in the proposed litigation which would be pertinent to the post-dissolution proceedings. The attorney asks whether he may continue to represent the ex-wife.

We do not believe that the ex-husband's membership in a property owners association that is challenging a municipal ordinance could conceivably affect the attorney's independent professional judgment (or that of his partner) either with regard to the property owners' representation or in connection with the representation of the ex-wife.

The inquiring attorney has never represented the husband, so there is no inherent conflict of interest in representing the ex-wife. Based upon the attorney's assurance that the issues in the two matters are entirely unrelated, we see nothing wrong with his continued representation after disclosure to and consent by the ex-wife. In our view the Code of Professional Responsibility is not intended to enable the ex-husband to intentionally create a conflict situation for an attorney who has represented his ex-wife for so long a period of time, simply by joining an organization that one of his partners represents in an entirely separate matter.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]