When Not To Listen To Your Friends

Most people get their impressions of divorce from Hollywood and their friends. These are probably the two worst sources of advice for those pursuing divorce litigation in real time and in the real world. The actress Ellen Barkin reputedly received $20 million in her divorce from investor Ronald Perelman. Your neighbor’s cousin may have gotten three homes and the family dog in his divorce. Your college roommate may have walked away with total custody of the children. All of this has nothing whatsoever to do with your case.

Frequently we have clients who come in armed to the teeth with divorce “advice” from friends, gained either through their own experience or through a too-close reading of People Magazine.

They have been advised not to pursue a job during the divorce as a way of “guaranteeing” higher support; or to quit their job as a way of cutting down support payments. Clients have had friends tell them to leave town with their children, to clear out joint bank accounts, or to fabricate stories of abuse and neglect. One of the most common pieces of advice from friends is, “Go for the jugular — take all the money!” This is not only unhelpful, but virtually impossible in today’s world of divorce and family law. In reality, it’s the attorneys who encourage this type of thinking who ultimately “take all the money.”

Opinion-based guidance from friends is wildly speculative. It can even be damaging to your case. In the least, it may fan expectations on your part that are unrealistic.

Whenever you are offered such advice, you should smile politely and ignore it. Your attorney and the firm representing you should be the sole source of your legal advice. Here is why. Divorce laws change by the year, by the state, by the county, and even by the courtroom. Every case is as individual as the parties divorcing. The court administrators and judges themselves have different approaches that may alter the outcome of your case in seemingly arbitrary ways. So the results of a friend’s or neighbor’s or Hollywood actor’s case, however similar it appears to your own, cannot serve as a yardstick for your proceedings.

One of the adages we espouse at Cooley & Handy is, when in doubt, believe your lawyer. Not your spouse, or your best friend, or your neighbor. You have hired a litigator who already knows the laws, the relevant facts, and the best approach for your particular case. That is where you should lean in.