Divorce is a topic that most people hope they will never have to learn about first hand. If they have to hear about it at all, most prefer hearing about someone else's marital dissolution.
The problem is that learning about divorce through the eyes of a friend, family member, neighbor or workmate who went through it, is not the best source of information and should never be your only source of information. There are several reasons for this.
1) You are learning about divorce through someone who may not fully understand what happened or why.
For example, someone who believed that all the money she earned during the marriage was hers might feel the judge acted unfairly when he ordered her to split a Money Market Account down the middle, She might tell anyone who would listen things such as, "Avoid Judge Joseph. He doesn't like women." or, "My attorney was terrible. She did nothing while my husband's attorney, who was more aggressive, got the judge to split our assets in half."
What this woman may not know or understand is that, by living in a community property state, she is subject by law to equally share accounts that were contributed to during the marriage. Her attorney may have been perfectly good but his hands were tied by the law, yet she will tell everyone what a bad job he did.
2) Your friend/acquaintance may not tell you about special circumstances in his case that may have influenced a particular outcome.
For example, he had a prenuptial agreement that predetermined a great deal of what the marital settlement was going to be so his divorce process was fairly smooth. Embarrassed by the fact that he had this agreement in place, he left this important fact out when he told his soon-to-be-divorcing co-worker that "The court system is a piece of cake to navigate." The co-worker had a completely different experience and felt he and his family had been decimated by the attorneys and by the proceedings. His experience was made worse by the fact that, because he thought it would be relatively easy, he erred on the side of preparing less for his case. This is ultimately what came back to haunt him.
3) Everything about you and your case is different from anyone else's case or circumstances.
If you think about all the moving parts that come together to make up a divorce, you can see how you really can't compare your situation to that of someone else. In the first place, you are different people who, even if you had the same attorneys and judge, would have different chemistry with these people. You have different issues to settle.
For example you may have more debt to contend with or more earning potential than your friend did. You may want different things from the settlement than they did. Perhaps your case is more contentious than your friend's case. Or there are special needs children involved. Or you are closer to retirement than your friend. And on and on.
There are endless details that, though they may seem small or insignificant, can make all the difference in the world.
It's fine to pick their brain or ask them about what happened for them but keep in mind that this happened for them. Ask them if they had any particular circumstances that might have made their case better or worse.
In some ways, there is no way to prepare for some of the unknowns. But understanding the general process as well as the laws can empower you to ask better questions, stand up for something that doesn't seem right to you or even to object to a particular issue.
Your best bet is to read as many books on the subject that you can. Nolo Press has a great basic reader entitled, Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce.
When you understand that your situation may be completely different from your friend's, you won't go into your divorce proceedings expecting that you will have the same or even a similar experience.
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