It is not uncommon for individuals going through a divorce to begin new relationships post separation. It is important for these relationships to begin post separation however, because any romantic or sexual relationship engaged in pre-separation is adultery according to Georgia law and may have negative legal repercussions for the adulterer if the adultery caused the divorce or separation. See O.C.G.A. § 19-5-3 and Owens v. Owens, 247 Ga. 139 (1981). It is also not uncommon for the new boyfriend or girlfriend of the individual seeking a divorce to be intimately involved in that individual’s divorce process, and sometimes even pay the attorney’s fees.
Although there is nothing inherently bad about a third party paying an attorney’s fee on behalf of the actual client, a problem does arise when the party paying the fee attempts to direct the attorney’s action. According to Georgia’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which are the rules that guide the professional conduct or actions of attorneys in Georgia, an attorney may accept payment for representing client from someone other than the actual client, but only if “the client gives informed consent; there is no interference with the lawyer’s independence of professional judgment or with the client-lawyer relationship; and information relating to representation of a client is protected …” GRPC Rule 1.8(f). Additionally, the Rules go on to state that “A lawyer shall not permit a person who recommends, employs, or pays the lawyer to render legal services for another to direct or regulate the lawyer’s professional judgment in rendering such legal services.” GRPC Rule 5.4(c).
What these rules mean is that although an individual’s family member or significant other may pay his or her attorney’s fees while he or she is going through a divorce, that family member or significant other may not direct or attempt to direct the attorney’s actions, interfere with the attorney’s professional relationship with the actual client to interfere with the professional judgment of the attorney as it relates to the actual client. For example, client is seeking a divorce, and client’s boyfriend is paying the attorney’s fee on behalf of client. Boyfriend may not direct the attorney on which grounds of divorce to allege or how to effect service on the client’s husband once the compliant for divorce has been filed. These decisions are only for the client to make, regardless of who is paying the fee. Even if the relative or significant other is well meaning, an attorney’s professional duty is to her client, and the client is the master of her case, not her boyfriend.