Facing a divorce causes even the most rational person to lose perspective. While it is completely normal to lose sight of the forest for the trees during such a stressful time, it is also unfortunately normal to make bad decisions in the heat of the moment.
Read on about some of the most common mistakes during divorce, and learn how to avoid these potentially devastating blunders. The best way to prepare yourself for a successful and happy future is to understand the pitfalls before you head down the divorce path.
Hiring The Wrong Divorce Attorney
Just like no two divorces are the same, neither are divorce attorneys. Some lawyers are sharks, ready to attack every aspect of the case. Others are mild-mannered and prefer to avoid conflict altogether. Before you settle for one or the other – or something in between – carefully consider the nuances of your situation. The relationship you have with your ex, the type of divorce process you want to use (mediation, collaborative divorce, traditional), and your own personality will all influence the type of attorney who will be most successful for you. Now is not the time to blindly go with a “friend of a friend” recommendation just because it is the easiest solution.
Using The Wrong Divorce Process
These days, not every divorce has to play out like you see it on tv – lawyers and clients facing off in the courtroom, going for the jugular. In fact, many more divorces are resolved with alternative divorce processes. Depending on the type of relationship you have with your soon-to-be ex, a less-adversarial approach may work better for your situation.
Coming Out Of The Gates With Guns Blazing
No matter how angry you may be with your spouse over the idea of divorce, starting off the process by going for the jugular will only lead to a nuclear World War III scenario for the rest of the divorce process. Spouses usually respond in kind when it comes to divorce tactics. So unless you really want to spend the next year or more of your life paying expensive legal fees and spending sleepless nights worrying about the next attack, it pays to think about kinder, gentler alternatives to begin the process.
Failing To Understand Legal Terms
Often times, parties in a divorce ignore the importance of respecting the nuanced meanings of legal words and phrases. For most individuals, a divorce is the first time they’ve been exposed to a courtroom or have been party to legal proceedings at all. These people sometimes base their understanding of what is happening by what they’ve heard from friends and family or, worse, seen on tv.
One area where this causes special problems is issues affecting the children. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions on behalf of your children. This includes things like education, religion and major medical issues. Residential custody (placement in some jurisdictions) addresses where the child lives the majority of the time. Visitation (or parenting time) specifies the amount of time the non-custodial parent has with the child.
Not Pushing For Full Financial Disclosure
With all the emotional issues that come with divorce, it is easy to understand why some people don’t want to fight about finances. However, failing to understand the full extent of the marital estate – and fight for your fair share – can leave you facing a difficult financial future. While some spouses will disclose everything up front, many times it takes a bit more pushing to get a complete picture of the total marital assets.
Your attorney will use the discovery process to require a reluctant spouse to fully disclose his or her assets. In cases where valuing the assets is difficult – privately held businesses, etc. – a forensic accountant may need to be hired.
Misusing Social Media
There once was a time when people were not so easily able to share every up, down and in between of their lives with millions of strangers at the click of a mouse. No more. Today, the numerous social media platforms make it incredibly easy to over-share every aspect of your life – including the pain of divorce. While it may feel momentarily vindicating to post a status update ranting about your evil ex, don’t do it. Even if you go back and delete it later, you can never erase it from cyberspace. Countless divorce cases have been adversely affected by social media posts made by one spouse or the other. It is time to take a break from all social media when you’re going through a divorce.
Losing Sight Of The Forest For The Trees
It is often said that if you only have a hammer, all you see are nails. This is definitely true in some divorces. When you are angry, all you may want to do is fight about every issue with your soon-to-be ex. But what does this strategy really get you?
Far too many individuals end up paying significant legal fees to fight over things and issues that do not make sense from a financial point-of-view. You’d be surprised how many people, in the heat of the moment, are willing to pay their lawyer $300 an hour to write letters over $20 Tupperware. During the drama of divorce proceedings, it is important to identify the issues that truly matter and focus on making decisions that help you get what you want in those areas. The rest is just extraneous noise.
Misunderstanding The Complexity Of Divorce Proceedings
Don’t be misled by advertisements promising you a divorce in xx days. The old saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” applies here. There are those unusual cases where two spouses can agree on everything and reach an amicable agreement themselves in record time, but this is not the norm. This is especially true when there are minor children involved.
The truth is that even under the best of circumstances, your divorce will likely take longer than you expected, will raise issues you didn’t consider and cost more than you expect. It is more like a marathon than a 100-yard dash. Understanding that and adopting strategies to help yourself cope – a support group, therapist, exercise – will help you stay the course without losing your mind.
Signing Documents Without Understanding Them
When you do finally resolve all the issues with your former partner, signing the final divorce agreement may seem like an afterthought. However, before you put your name on the dotted line it is critically important that you thoroughly read – and understand – every single word in the document. Blindly signing and then finding out later the wording was not quite what you thought you had agreed to will only cause problems for you. Take the time to sit down and focus on the paperwork and ask your lawyer to clarify anything, no matter how small the point seems, before you sign off. Otherwise, you may be in for a surprise down the road.
Not Understanding The Tax Implications Of Your Agreement
One other thing to be crystal clear about (before you finalize negotiations) is how your tax situation will be impacted by your agreement. Dividing investments like retirement accounts can have significant tax implications for you, as will who gets to claim the children each year for tax purposes. Failing to understand tax ramifications of your agreement can cause you to end up with less than you expected.