Even a comparatively smooth divorce process is complex, time-consuming, stressful, and emotionally loaded. Unfortunately, some big mistakes can make it even more difficult. Knowledge is power, and you can help yourself immensely by becoming familiar with potential pitfalls.
Here are the ten most common divorce mistakes and how to avoid them.
Allowing emotions to control you. Your feelings—hurt, anger, sorrow, disappointment, failure, guilt, regret, confusion, frustration, and exhaustion—are normal and expected. But out-of-control emotions can create more conflict, prolong the inevitable, and do further harm. It’s crucial to face the divorce process from a place of rationality and calm. A therapist or counselor can help you clear your head, organize your thoughts, and get to a place where you can reason, communicate, and use good judgment.
Trying to go it alone. Qualified, experienced legal counsel is essential. Divorce law—including division of property, custody, and support—is complicated and has long-lasting implications. Attempting to do it on your own can cause costly mistakes. Do not take legal advice from friends and family. Hire an attorney who is committed to your case, who listens and communicates well, helping you understand the law and your rights and responsibilities.
Refusing to communicate and cooperate. Understandably, the last thing you want to do is keep in touch with your almost-ex. You will have far less control over the outcome if your case goes to court. But reasonable settlements come from open communication and a willingness to work together, even through intense emotions and contentious issues. Do your best to collaborate, negotiate, and create a mutually satisfying Marital Settlement Agreement.
Using the divorce process to punish your ex. Dragging it out eternally, stonewalling, refusing to negotiate, fighting over assets you don’t honestly care about, obsessing over minutiae, trying to win when you’re hurt and angry, it’s tempting to use the divorce process to exact revenge. But this will only make it harder on everyone, yourself included, and especially your children. It prolongs a painful process, increases costs, and ultimately leaves you unsatisfied. Keep your emotions in check and commit to collaboration—moving things forward toward a fair and balanced settlement.
Rushing. The flip side of dragging things out is rushing through the process. Naturally, you’re eager to have the most challenging part over so you can start fresh; you also don’t want to waste time and money. But it’s important to know that, by law, in California, a divorce takes at least six months which may seem like a long time, but you’ll be busy. There’s a lot of business to finalize and a future to plan. Use this time to sort through all the details and reach a mutually beneficial and satisfactory settlement. You don’t want to agree to something hastily and later have regrets. Carefully review all the terms on your own and with your attorney. Know that this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Failing to plan for your financial future. Preparing for your post-divorce financial life doesn’t stop with the division of assets and debts. Two households are more expensive than one. You will need to budget for rent/mortgage, utilities, food, childcare, medical expenses, etc. You’ll need to figure out new health insurance. Make sure you’re fully aware of the tax implications of your settlement, including investments, pensions, retirement funds, and so forth. You may need to change your will or estate plan. You’ll also want to refrain from creating new debts at this precarious moment. Seek the advice of an accountant and/or financial planner—it’s easy to miss critical details.
Not being straightforward with your lawyer. Your attorney can only work with the details you provide. Full disclosure—financial and all essential facts—is vital to your case. Hiding assets, debts, information, and documentation, or lying in court or on official documents, can undermine your entire process, inviting an appeal; it can cause you to lose ground in your settlement or even result in criminal fraud charges.
Making unofficial oral agreements. Yes, it’s essential to keep open communication with your spouse, and it’s terrific if your split is amicable. But it’s not a good idea to verbally agree to plans and arrangements outside of formal negotiations. They’ll be difficult or impossible to enforce, and you may disagree later. Everything needs to be in writing and in your official settlement agreement to protect the interests of both parties and the whole family.
Over-involving the children. Your children are in a very delicate place, and the circumstances are challenging for them. Do not use them as intermediaries, go-betweens, or pawns. Do not badmouth your ex to them. Refrain from oversharing what is going on between you and your spouse. You can damage your relationship with the child and even hurt your custody case.
Getting back in the dating game too soon. You may be ready to move on with your life, feel normal again, and find love. But getting involved in a romantic relationship, or even casual dating, while you’re technically still married and in the heat of the divorce process can cause many problems—even in a no-fault divorce state like California. It can inflame resentment and bitterness with your ex, making negotiations more difficult. And it can confuse and hurt your children when they’re already fragile. It’s best to give yourself and your family time to heal, find peace, settle, and have the formalities finalized before you start dating.
The skilled and experienced family lawyers at SFLG can help you navigate the dissolution process smoothly and successfully, avoiding common mistakes that can hurt your case.
By Debra Schoenberg