How Friends and Family Can Derail Your Divorce

Hardly a client comes to our office who hasn't been given some great divorce advice by a brother, sister, great aunt, girl friend, guy friend, neighbor, or coworker. The topic seems to attract quite a bit of input from others, who are more than happy to share their good experiences, their bad experiences, their "if only's", and what they would have done different if they could start it all over. They are well intentioned, of course, and only want what is best for you. It is important to bear in mind though that they are not legal professionals and are not qualified to offer legal advice. In fact, the advice they provide can often do a lot more harm than good. I heard of a case where the wife was convinced by her family that she deserved spousal maintenance although it was a short-term marriage, no children, and she was a registered nurse. Imagine her dismay and her empty pocket book, that she was not awarded any spousal maintenance after trial costing her over $50,000. 

Hearing the outcome of your friend's divorce—how she/he got the house, the kids, and the car—will not help you. It will only create unreasonable expectations that will ultimately leave you feeling discontent and inclined to fight harder to get what you think you deserve. The financial side of divorce can be complicated by the individuals feelings about what stuff and money they "deserve." While your situation may seem similar to your friend's, there are likely many very important differences from a legal point of view. Having unreasonable expectations may incline you to make decisions about your divorce that are not in your best interests.

Further, the non-legal advice that your loved ones provide can create more tension in your already strained relationship with your soon-to-be ex. Divorce undoubtedly comes with challenges, and emotions run high. When friends and family start offering you legal advice about your divorce, more often than not, it will simply fuel the flames of dissension that have already been kindled between you and your significant other. Hearing what a jerk he is won't help you. If your judgment is clouded by anger or revenge, it will affect your divorce, your expectations, and your ability to work with your partner to bring about the best end to your marriage. There is a misconception that somehow a heated courtroom battle will bring about the best result for you. That is usually not the case. Going to court is expensive. Couples rarely walk away feeling positive about the outcome. Often the divorce that is most cost effective and offers the best result for both spouses is achieved when the couple is able to work together, sharing their entire financial assets and liabilities with each other, and negotiating reasonable terms. This is often not what your friends and family will tell you to do.

Having gone through a divorce once, twice, or even three times does not make someone a legal professional or qualified to counsel others through the legal aspects of their divorce. While one case might seem the same as another, each is unique in its own way, and a well trained legal eye will be able to identify these differences, foretell potential pitfalls, offer sound advice to protect your interests, and help you understand all of the nuances of family law and divorce. Child custody, parenting time, spousal support, and division of assets and debt are highly complex matters that are best left to a qualified family law attorney.

Remember that your divorce is not easy for your friends and family either; it affects them as well. Consulting a qualified divorce lawyer can assist you to analyze your situation objectively, weigh your legal options with you, and effectively assist you in making sound legal and financial decisions for your future. An experienced legal professional can help you appreciate the pros and cons of the different legal paths open to you and avoid costly pitfalls and common financial mistakes made by pro se individuals.

What friends and family can do to help you

Your friends and family of course have an important role to play during your divorce. They are your most valuable source of emotional support. What we have seen is that the best that they can do for you is to offer a listening ear. Spend time with them. Vent. Go for walks. Hang out at the gym. Having the extra company is good. Those who love you will naturally want to fix things for you. Let them know that just having them there is the best that they can do for you.