When you are in the midst of a divorce, you will be given advice (often unsolicited) from friends and family members. Abraham Lincoln observed that “he who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The thought behind that quote is anyone who represents himself or herself lacks the objectivity and insight to make certain clear eyed decisions in his or her court case.
The same holds true for friends and family who love you.
Friends and family operate from the same emotional perspective that you do. In some ways they are more invested because they empathize with your pain and want to help you escape it. Often they feel your betrayal more acutely than you do and want to help vindicate you. Regardless, their advice is not typically helpful and can actually be harmful.
Years ago I appeared for a trial with a client. Shortly before the trial was to commence, her husband’s attorney made a very generous offer to settle the case. Since the offer exceeded the Judge’s pretrial recommendations, I urged the client to take the deal. I knew that by going to trial she would likely get less than the offer. Accompanying her to court that day was a close friend. The friend was outraged by the husband’s “lowball” offer and advised my client to reject it. My client was torn and confused by what I considered a no-brainer decision. I knew that the friend had significant influence over the client and while I wanted to banish the friend from the courthouse, I knew I needed to work with her to help my client make the right decision.
While the friend raged at the sheer audacity of the husband’s offer, I quietly pulled out my legal pad and started writing. The client asked what I was writing and I told her I was preparing an indemnification agreement. She asked what that was and I said that the decision to proceed to trial was solely based upon her friend’s advice, that if the result was less than the settlement, the friend was agreeing to pay her the difference. The room became silent. The well meaning friend suddenly backed off her militant stance and the case settled.
I tell this vignette because it illustrates the fact that at the end of the day it is you who must live with the results of your decisions, not your family or friends. And while they mean well, they have no chips in the pot. Decisions need to be made jointly between you and your lawyer, who knows the law and more importantly the inclinations of the judge. Litigation strategy guided by loved ones can be disastrous. Here are some tips for dealing with loved one’s well meaning advice:
Don’t solicit it in the first place. Often advice is sought and when sought, offered generously. If you don’t seek it in the first place, it may not be given. Use your lawyer, a therapist or a divorce coach to help you make good decisions about your divorce, not your loved ones.
Develop a tagline to respectfully decline the advice. Sometimes people don’t care if you want their advice, they intend to offer it anyway. Develop a speech to respectfully decline the advice, “hey mom, I really appreciate your support on this but I trust my lawyer and think he is doing the right job for me…” if the fire has no oxygen it will burn out. Eventually others will keep their opinions to themselves.
Invite them into the tent. Lyndon Johnson, when referring to the press said, “I would rather have them in the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.” If a friend or family member has strong opinions on your case, ask your lawyer if it would be okay to bring that person to a meeting to share his or her thoughts directly with the lawyer. By doing so the lawyer can validate or invalidate the suggestions directly. And if the suggestions are not good ones, the lawyer can advise the family members why their suggestions are not appropriate.
Google is not a real lawyer. Sometimes friends and family try to help by researching your issues on Google and advising you based upon that research. Its relatively easy to get knowledge but knowing how to use the knowledge is different. Most of the information one retrieves from a search engine is inapplicable to your individual case, subject to the rules and customs of the court presiding over your case.
Beware of the “know it all”. Every family has one, the person who is an expert on all topics under the sun. This is probably the most dangerous person to rely on. The “know it all” is not only a self described expert on many topics but convinced of the perfection of his analysis. And while over many years that person may have convinced you of his brilliance, as a guarantee that person does not know your case circumstances better than your lawyer does. Don’t get sucked in.
Free advice is worth what you pay for it. Sometimes even less. Your family and friends should be there as a support for you, to help you grieve the loss of your marriage. They should offer a shoulder to cry on, or a helping hand, but they should not be giving you legal advice. Leave that to the professionals who are trained and objective.