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Hiring a New Divorce Lawyer May be Necessary Amid Conflicts of Interest

Wendi Deng, who has been wedded 14 years to media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, was reportedly surprised when she returned to their home in New York to learn that her husband had served her with divorce papers.
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Rupert’s third wife and mother of his two youngest children was reportedly eager to immediately secure a skilled New York family law attorney. By default, she went with the same attorney who had advised her in the prenuptial agreement more than a dozen years earlier.

However, Deng has since switched attorneys after interviewing eight total, causing some to speculate that the divorce was about to take an acrimonious turn. Certainly, this is sometimes what such a change can mean.

Other, it can mean that a conflict of interest has arisen. That appears to be the case here, according to news outlets citing sources close to Deng. While her original attorney had advised her in signing the premarital agreement, that attorney had subsequently become a friend of the family’s. In this case, Deng reportedly felt it was too great a conflict of interest, and wanted a lawyer who could offer more independent counsel. Regardless of the back story, this makes sense at face value as the legitimacy of the prenuptial agreement could well become an issue in the divorce. This is why criminal appeals are typically handled by a different attorney — who then argues ineffective assistance of counsel at trial.

Although the wealthy couple had signed both prenuptial and two post-nuptial agreements, spelling out many of the specifics regarding division of assets in the event of a divorce, there are still many aspects of the separation are uncertain.

For example, one area of possible contention that was not addressed (and rarely is) in any of the previous agreements is that of child custody and child support. The couple has two daughters, ages 11 and 9. Prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements that pre-determine custody and support aren’t binding in court, which is why they aren’t typically included. Many times in divorce negotiations involving wealthier couples, this can be used as leverage by the less wealthy party to alter other aspects of the agreement that might have been less favorable.

Another possible reason that Deng may have chose to switch was that a family law attorney who may be well-versed in advising prenuptial agreements may not be the best to handle a contentious custody battle.

Not many people have the kind of financial options Deng does in this situation (and few have as much at stake). But some of these lessons are still relevant.

While we understand that divorce is often an emotional roller coaster, you don’t want to make any hard-and-fast decisions about when to pull the plug on your relationship with your attorney. Not every decision will go your way, regardless of how good your lawyer.

That said, there may come a point when making a change is necessary. Some possible indications of that may be:

  • He also represents your ex. Sometimes, spouses assume that because they can’t afford an attorney of the same caliber as their ex, sharing one will be a better option. It’s usually not. Having someone to solely look out for your interests in these matters is almost always preferable.
  • You aren’t able to communicate well. Effective communication is key to any relationship. If you feel you aren’t being heard, it may be time to hang it up.
  • Speaking of hanging it up, if your attorney doesn’t answer your calls or isn’t otherwise responsive to your concerns, you may need to find a new one. Everyone gets busy. But if you don’t hear back within a day or two, you probably need to search for someone who is more available.

While you don’t want to wait to long before hiring a divorce lawyer, staying with wrong one can cause you even greater headaches in the long-term.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides family law litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
Wendi Murdoch Hires a New Lawyer, Suggesting a Divorce May Turn Messy, July 29, 2013, By Peter Lattman and Amy Chozick, The New York Times
More Blog Entries:
New York City Child Custody Attorneys Hold Deadbeat Parents Accountable, December 2, 2013, New York Family Law Attorney Blog