The Florida Bar

Ethics Opinion

Opinion 85-1

June 1, 1985
Advisory ethics opinions are not binding.
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.

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.