In my 15 years of practicing law, I’ve seen a lot of mistakes that people make when going through a divorce. Here are 7 of the biggest mistakes I see.
Tip #1 Oversharing
What is oversharing? It means telling everyone in the world what is going on with your separation and divorce. Ending a marriage, especially when there are young kids involved, should be a private matter. How and when you tell the world that you are getting divorced is ultimately up to you, but oversharing information to family, friends and social media can actually backfire if not done with serious thought and a plan as to what you are trying to accomplish.
If you need to talk to someone about your separation, then discussing what is going on with your best friend is one thing, but telling all the parents at your children’s school that your spouse is a lying scumbag will never help your situation. Those conversations are best saved for your therapist’s office.
Tip #2 Fighting over things that don’t matter
I see this all the time. A client wants to “win” in the divorce (FYI, you can’t “win” a divorce lawsuit). And sometimes they hate their spouse so much that they will make unreasonable demands just to spite them – even though doing so makes it harder to settle their case.
Here’s a tip. If you are starting to fight over little things that don’t really matter, you need to take a step back and ask yourself what you are doing and why. What is really going on with you personally that is causing you to act in a way that is self-destructive and will actually hurt your personal situation in the long run?
Fighting over a television, or a car, or a living room set may actually cost you more money, increase your amount of stress, and take months off of your life. Not to mention the additional cost in the form of additional legal fees. In essence, you are “spending a dollar to save a penny.”
Tip #2 Not starting with the end in mind
When many people go through a legal separation, they don’t really know what it is they want out of the process. Usually, that is because they haven’t taken the time to think through their goals and objectives. Do they want more time with the kids or to protect their retirement account? Do they want to complete the separation agreement as quickly as possible or get every last penny of alimony? Do they just want to separate as quickly as possible or do they want to move through the process methodically?
One of the first things we do with our clients is to talk to them about their goals and help them to outline a strategy so they can increase the likelihood that they will get what they want out of their divorce. We have prepared a proprietary Goals Worksheet to help walk our clients through the various legal and practical issues that come up in a divorce situation and determine which issues are the most important to you.
Tip #3 Staying in a Bad Marriage for Too Long
Many couples decide to stay together in an unhappy marriage “for the kids”. However, recent studies have shown that children do better in separated, healthy homes than they do in homes where the marriage is intact but dysfunctional.
If you have children, making the decision to leave makes sense if your marriage is irretrievably broken. As your children grow into pre-teens, they are old enough to see whether you are happy or not.
And even if you don’t have children, many people stay together in bad marriages because they are scared of what is on the other side of a legal separation. They wonder whether they are making the correct decision to leave and whether they will ever find love again? They wonder how they will manage financially if they leave? They are afraid of dividing up all of their assets and what that will mean for their retirement.
Here is my experience with my clients. It is incredibly rare that someone will leave a marriage and regret their decision. And honestly, if it does happen, I’ve yet to see it in 15 years of handling family law matters.
Sometimes you just have to rip off the band-aid and move on. Is it scary? Of course. But statistically speaking, you will be happier in the long run.
Tip #4 Not seeking help from a therapist
As we discussed previously, telling everyone in the world about your impending separation may feel good in the moment, but it’s not necessarily the best thing for your legal case, for your family, or for your long term mental health. The last thing you want is other people gossiping, and then having that information get back to your child at school or to your spouse who isn’t yet aware that you want a separation.
A therapist can be a great help in this regard. They can talk to you about your situation and help you work through your issues in a systematic and strategic way. They will give you constructive feedback and help you understand whether leaving your marriage is the right decision for you or not.
Tip #5 Leaving the house without an agreement
One of the biggest mistakes I see from people who make the decision to leave is that they rush the process. They want out so bad that they leave the house after a terrible fight and never come back. This is one of the worst things you can do. Or their spouse demands that they leave and they comply, thinking it is the right thing to do in the moment.
Leaving the house and formally separating is a huge decision. You need to work through finances, how to pay for two houses on your income, custody of the children, where you will go, and much more. This is not a decision that should be taken lightly and done in a huff.
It’s such a big decision that clients will frequently engage us to do what we call “pre-separation planning”. In other words, we will work with clients to help them get all of their finances in order and determine the best time to separate. Believe it or not, we have also counseled clients to move back in if possible, because they are not in the place financially where a separation makes sense.
Over time, we can help to draft both interim and permanent agreements for custody and support so that you can move out without fear of getting slapped with a lawsuit for post-separation support, child support or custody.
Tip #6 Not talking to a lawyer early on in the process
If you are thinking about leaving your spouse, it is never too early to talk to a lawyer. We meet with many people who wait 6 months or a year or longer before engaging us on a formal basis. Deciding to separate is a big decision and smart clients want to go about it the right way. Your meeting with a lawyer is confidential and nobody but you and our office will ever know that you met with us.
The benefits of meeting with a lawyer early on are many. These meetings can be therapeutic in that we will let you tell us about what is going on and we will ask you lots of questions to help you understand what the separation will ultimately look like. We can help you to figure out when is an appropriate time to separate and whether there are things you should or shouldn’t be doing now to prepare for the separation.
Many of our client’s come away from these meetings with the sense that they know what to expect and what the process will look like. We will share with you our strategic plan to help you move through the separation process systematically and methodically to achieve the best possible result for you and your family.
We hope that you will find these tips helpful as you ponder your decision to separate from your spouse. We realize that this is not an easy decision, nor is it one that should be taken lightly. A divorce is a serious legal transaction with lots of moving parts.
If you have questions or would like to schedule an initial call with our office, you may contact us here or call us directly at (919) 883-4861. Thank you for downloading this tip sheet and we look forward to hearing from you.