My clients often ask “will I get the same thing that my neighbor received in his divorce” or “why can’t my ex share in transportation– my cousin has to share with her ex” or “my friend earns so much more than me and his support is much lower than mine”. I always tell my clients that as a rule, don’t compare your situation with the situation of someone else.
While the same laws concerning family law actions are applied to each case, each case is different and therefore, the outcomes are different. It is true that many cases have similar factual patterns but most of the time they are not exactly the same. Using one of the examples above, while someone may be earning more but paying less in support than another litigant, it could be that the ex-spouse of the litigant had other available resources generating income like an inheritance or the ex-spouse could have received more of the family assets as a trade-off for less support. While it is very tempting to compare your situation with that of another person, keep in mind that more likely than not, you are not getting the full story from that person. Also, sometimes misery loves company and it could be that the only part of the story you are getting is what the other person painfully remembers the most.
Also important to note is that in New Jersey, the statutory factors for an award of support or for a custody determination are numerous. The Courts apply each factor to the given situation and then completes a balancing of all of the factors prior to rendering a determination. It is in this application of the facts that results in different determinations among cases. Moreover, litigants should also recognize that Judges are vested with a certain level of discretion in weighing the factors which is yet another reason why the outcome of cases differ.
Notably, if one was to review a significant amount of family law decisions published by the Court concerning the same exact issue (child support, alimony, custody, etc.), it is very unlikely that a person would find a decision with the same exact fact pattern as their given situation.
In short, save yourself some frustration and make it a rule not to compare your family situation with that of someone else during a litigation and focus on your facts with your attorney. After all, as I tell my clients, it is your facts that we will be presenting to the Court and not the facts of your neighbor, cousin or friend.
EDITOR’S NOTE: i once had a client who used to say that no one could believe how much temporary support he was paying and that it was the most anyone ever heard of. My answer was, "Do they make a million dollars a year like you? No. Do they make a half a million a year? No Do they make $250,000 per year? No. The moral is that he was talking to people whose finances had no similarity to his and reacting to their shock. That goes exactly to Apple’s point – while friends and relatives are good for support and a shoulder to lean/cry on, they are not usually a good source of legal advice or information. ERIC S. SOLOTOFF