Talk to any family-law attorney and you will likely hear that a common question asked by clients is some variation of “My friend/cousin/barber got (insert desired outcome) in his or her divorce, why can’t I?” On one hand, this makes some sense; for most people, divorce is a process that they’ve never experience before. Because of this, it is understandable that they would ask others who have been through divorce to help them understand what is going to happen. On the other hand, doing so can cause problems because no two divorces are the same, and judging yours by someone else’s can lead to unreasonable expectations and poor decisions.
As you go through divorce, it is important to recognize that there are numerous factors that can lead to very different outcomes. Below are some reasons to use caution when drawing on the experiences of others:
· Different states have different laws. Every state has its own set of laws governing divorce and they can vary substantially. What is likely in one state may be rare in another. One, but certainly not the only, important distinction is between “equitable division” states, like Minnesota, and “community property” states like California. Because of this, property division in such states will be quite different.
· You are only hearing one side of the story. What your friend tells you is going to be colored by his or her perspective. If you asked his or her ex, you might get a very different account of what happened.
· The judge or referee assigned to your case matters. Any judicial officer is going to be shaped by his or her experiences. This does not mean that they are “biased,” it simply means that they are human and are going to view matters a bit differently from one another. Moreover, every judicial officer is going to have his or her own way of managing cases: some strongly push settlement and “twist arms” to get resolution, others take a more hands-off approach; some move cases along quickly, others let them linger. These differences can have a significant effect on negotiations and outcomes.
· Small differences can be magnified. Although you may think your situation is very similar to someone else’s, it will never be exactly the same and you may not know all of the relevant details. Subtle differences in such things as health, employment history, standard of living, the number and ages of children, the type of assets and how they are held, and the nature of debts owed, can all have substantial effects on the final outcome.
· You don’t know what compromises were made. All negotiations involve give and take and it is unlikely that you know exactly what someone gave up to get a certain result. A friend who didn’t have to pay spousal maintenance may have given up additional retirement assets to “buy out” the maintenance payment. Your neighbor may have been awarded the house because she also took on much of the credit card debt. Your third cousin may been able to get a certain parenting time schedule because he was able to negotiate a more flexible schedule at work.
· People tend to overemphasize certain things. Divorces involve multiple issues, but people often focus on a few outcomes that are particularly consequential to them or that they feel were particularly good or bad. In addition, if an issue was important to them, they are likely to feel more strongly just how good or bad the outcome was. Likewise, they may simplify or embellish that outcome when talking to others.
Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all outcome in divorce. Outcomes are fact-specific and a lack of knowledge about all of the facts involved can lead to a warped view of what is “fair” in your situation. One advantage of working with an attorney who specializes in family law is that he or she is more likely to be aware of all of the variables that come into play and better able to help you navigate the system to achieve a favorable outcome.
To discuss divorce, or any family law matter, call Kruse Family Law at 612.231.9865 or email firstname.lastname@example.org