One veteran divorce lawyer says, “Criminal lawyers see bad people at their best; divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.”
Sometimes these good people, hurt and wounded by the divorce, play a particular form of hardball to put their former spouses at a disadvantage.
While it is not illegal, it is a tactic that is guaranteed to anger the other spouse and the sort of maneuvering that often leads to incremental tit-for-tat that ends in divorce warfare.
The lawyer calls it “poisoning the field of contenders.” Here is how people do it. Sam and Sally are parting ways, and Sam knows that Sally plans to use Atty. Ronald Ripper, a divorce lawyer who has a reputation as a slash-and-burn artist. Sam gets to Ripper before Sally does and pretends he is interested in hiring Ripper as his lawyer in his upcoming divorce. Sam shares confidential information with Ripper about his marriage to Sally. In so doing, Sam puts Ripper in a conflict of interest. But by giving the lawyer confidential information – the kind of information the lawyer might need in a divorce – Ripper cannot take on Sally as a client. Then, after a decent interval, Sam tells Ripper that he plans to look elsewhere for a lawyer.
Even if there is no real conflict, the appearance is enough to bar the lawyer from taking the case.
Lawyers are bound by canons of ethics. A lawyer who knows the divorcing couple from the happier days of the marriage cannot represent one of them in their divorce, and no lawyer can represent both parties in a divorce.