Beware the Well-Intentioned Advice of Friends and Family

Divorce and Family Mediator, Susan Ingram, warns against heeding the advice of non-professional, well-intentioned friends.

I suppose it’s only natural that friends and family will volunteer all sorts of information as to what happened to them, or other people they know, when they got divorced. The clients I see in my divorce mediation practice often come to me with preconceived and incorrect information as to what they believe they are “entitled to” as part of their divorce settlement.

The problem with listening to the advice of family and friends is that the circumstances of each divorce are different. Furthermore, the decisions that are made – either by a couple themselves if they are mediating, or by a judge if they are litigating – depend upon the combined and unique facts of each particular case.

I’ve written before about the benefits of mediation. Here is yet another example of why, in the vast majority of cases, it is better to mediate the issues rather than litigate. As the couple’s attorney/mediator, I can tell them what the statutes and case law provide. If they ask, I can also advise them what other couples have done in similar circumstances. And I can help them brainstorm alternative approaches to resolve difficult issues.

What I can’t do is advocate for either one or give them separate legal advice regarding their decisions. That information would need to be provided by each party’s review attorney.

Except for less complicated cases (for instance, where there’s a short-term marriage with little personal property and no children), I strongly recommend that each party consult with his or her own attorney to review the settlement agreement I’ve prepared for them.

On occasion, I’ve been retained to review a settlement agreement for a husband or wife who has worked with another mediator. In those instances, I will, of course, advise the client of his or her rights. While doing that, I will do my best to respect the integrity of the process and honor the decisions the couple made during their mediation.

So be wary of friendly advice. And that goes for even the most well-intentioned relatives and friends. There are just too many variables that contribute to the outcome of each case.

Have you received well-intentioned advice on what to do with your divorce? Did you find it useful or not?


Comments from Social Media


Thanks for sharing, Susan. This is one of the biggest hurdles I face as a Family Law Attorney. Clients will come in with certain expectations based on what happened in their cousin, co-worker or friend’s divorce. One of the most difficult parts of my job is to get the client to truly understand that each situation is completely different and just because your friend’s ex-wife got full custody of the children,doesn’t mean the same thing will happen in your case. Again, thanks for sharing such a great article.

Lisa Marie Vari, Managing Attorney


Oh so true Susan. I always suggest to my clients that they try to refrain from listening to the “Greek Chorus” – well meaning though they may be. Well said!

Ada Hasloecher, Divorce & Family Mediator


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3 responses on “Beware the Well-Intentioned Advice of Friends and Family

  1. Linda Skarrup

    Right on Susan! Great advice, the only thing I would add is families and friends are never impartial, are emotionally too close to the situation, and in general have no professional skills related to divorce, etc. Everyone needs “someone” to talk to, during a personal crises, I highly recommend seeing a therapist, in addition to a lawyer under these circumstances.

  2. Mary Witt, LMFT

    As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I have obviously heard many stories and pieces of advice. Recently, two different new clients told me that “the first spouse to move out of the house is abandoning the marriage and won’t be given equal custody in the parenting plan.” The result is two adults living bitterly in the home doing crazy things trying to get the other to leave… sometimes for years. Meanwhile, the kids have to deal with it.

    They also claim their attorney agreed it was better to stay in the house than move out.

  3. Mary Campbell

    As a mediator and attorney, I could not agree more. I give the same advice to my clients. Divorce is extremely personal and each couple will have their own unique dynamics. If needed, talk to a mediation-friendly attorney and/or therapist for professional support. Or a tax specialist. Friends tend to share horror stories rather than help. It is a rare event for a friend to tell you about the divorce that went well. But plenty will tell you about the one that didn’t, in excruciating detail. How can a couple vision a new and positive future when they are mired in horror stories or what they are “supposed” to do?

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