One of the things we hear most as divorce lawyers is “my friend got X, why can’t I?” or some variation on that theme. It is normal to talk to friends and family when you are divorcing, and speaking to those who have gotten divorced already can bring the most comfort. But just because someone you know had a certain experience does not mean your divorce will go the same way. Here are five reasons your divorce may differ from your friend’s:
1. You are getting one side of the story. The account you are given by your friend is biased so take what you hear with a grain of salt. It is not uncommon for the two sides in a divorce to hear the same decision or read the same report and have completely divergent impressions. If you were to speak to your friend’s spouse, it is likely that you would hear something at odds with what your friend reported.
2. Little differences can be a big deal. Facts matter. The outcome of a divorce is very fact sensitive. Details such as one spouse’s employment history, the way assets are held, the school a child attends, or the existence of health issues can drastically impact things like spousal support or custody arrangements. On the surface your situation might seem a lot like your friend’s, but no two relationships are the same. You may not be privy to all of the small differences between your marriage and your friend’s marriage which would cause the results of your divorces to differ.
3. You don’t know what your friend gave up. The vast majority of divorce cases settle and most settlements involve a significant amount of compromise on both sides. Your friend who is telling you he got equal custodial time may have waived an interest in his wife’s lucrative business to get it. Your cousin’s ex may have agreed to pay her an exorbitant amount of spousal support because he felt guilty about having an affair. If the details on the other side of the bargain are not flattering, your friend or family member might leave them out, leaving you with a false sense of what would be “fair” in your own divorce situation.
4. If you are litigating, the judge assigned to your case can make all the difference. In New York each matrimonial judge has his or her own method of managing divorce cases. Some judges hold extensive conferences and will “bang heads” to strongly encourage settlements. Others have little patience for disagreement and will set a case down for trial after one or two attempts at settlement. Knowing a trial is imminent (or knowing one is not) can drastically change divorce settlement offers. Further, even if you and your friend have the same judge there is no guarantee that he or she will see your cases the same way. Judges are human. While they are guided by the law, their determinations can be influenced by the way they perceive you, your spouse, and your situation.
5. Laws (and societal norms) vary by state. There is no federal divorce law. Each state has its own set of laws that govern the myriad issues involved in a divorce. If your friend was divorced in another state, that experience should not necessarily inform your choices in your divorce. Some differences are striking, such as community property versus equitable distribution. If your friend’s divorce was in one of nine community property states, expect that the division of your marital property will be not be handled the same way unless you also live in a community property state. Other differences are more subtle. For example, if you are a stay-at-home dad seeking spousal support in an area where that is not the norm you may not have the same experience as a stay-at-home mom in the same community.
Rely on your friends and family for support during your divorce but remember that the outcome of your divorce depends on a wide variety of factors. The best way to effectively gauge expectations is to consult with and hire a lawyer with experience in this field where you live. Greenblatt Law LLC specializes in New York divorce law and can advise you on all aspects of your divorce.