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Opinion date: March 2, 2005

Ethics issue presented:

Under what circumstances may an attorney distribute the proceeds from the sale of a marital residence, without a court order directing distribution, when the lawyer for the opposing spouse and the opposing spouse have communicated to Inquirer inconsistent directions on how to distribute the marital funds?

Facts as presented by Inquirer:

Inquirer represents a husband in a divorce action. Inquirer's firm is holding the proceeds from the sale of the marital residence in an escrow account. Wife and wife's counsel have provided Inquirer with inconsistent directions on how to distribute wife's share of the proceeds from the sale of the marital residence. The inconsistency seems to have developed as a result of a dispute between wife and her counsel. Inquirer wants to know whether or not he can distribute the proceeds from the sale of the marital residence directly to spouse's wife and not jointly to the wife and her counsel.

Advice given:

Inquirer was asked to review Rule 1.15(c) of the Rules of Professional Conduct. After review, Inquirer came to the conclusion that a legitimate dispute existed with respect to the funds being held in escrow. Inquirer then decided that, until such time when the dispute was resolved, or new counsel was obtained by wife, or a court order was entered directing distribution, the funds should remain in escrow.

The foregoing is advisory only and is not binding on the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania or any given Court. It carries only such weight as an appropriate reviewing authority may choose to give it.


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