Every marriage is different, and so is every divorce.
While there is no one right way to get a divorce, there are many ways to get it wrong. Some divorce mistakes are quite obvious – playing a game of hide-the-asset, for instance. Other mistakes seem harmless, but can lead to a divorce disaster!
Below are some common (and maybe surprising!) mistakes you need to avoid during divorce.
- Trying to Control the Divorce Process
If you don’t know what to expect from the divorce process it can become very overwhelming. This can naturally lead to a desire to want to control the process. You may try to take the lead in the divorce out of fear of the unknown, based on horror stories you have heard about divorce from friends or on television, or even your own experience witnessing your parents’ messy divorce. Even with the best intentions of having a fair and amicable divorce, trying to control the process too much can inadvertently lead to a divorce filled with animosity and mistrust.
Insisting on being the first to contact a lawyer, being the spouse who files for divorce, and funneling all financial information through them are just a few examples of how men (and women) try to control the divorce process. The pitfall to this approach is that, by clinging too tightly to a belief of how the divorce should go, you may overlook opportunities to be collaborative and reach compromises in your divorce.
While divorce is never easy, and at times it can feel like the future is in someone else’s hands, trying to control every aspect of the divorce process will drive you crazy – because it’s not possible!
- “Lawyering-Up” With the Most Aggressive Lawyer in Town
It is instinctual to want to protect yourself and your assets during a divorce. What better way to do that than hiring the most aggressive big-name lawyer in town, right? Wrong. Even with the best of intentions, hiring an aggressive attorney right off the bat can set a negative tone for your entire divorce. You can imagine this as a football team signing Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers – it sends the message that they are here to play and they are here to win.
There is nothing wrong with talking to a lawyer about your divorce – particularly if you have significant questions that require legal analysis, or to develop a legal strategy. But, not all divorce lawyers are created equally, and who you hire matters. Lawyers are trained to overthink and, unfortunately, that can lead to an amplification of even the most minor of issues, which can end up costing you thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.
If you decide to hire a lawyer, do your homework and shop around. Look for a lawyer who will not just tell you what you want to hear (even though that’s nice – we get it!) and who works to minimize conflict, instead of enhancing it. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions when you are interviewing potential lawyers about their philosophy and how they approach the divorce process. Be sure that the lawyer you hire, if any, is aligned with your goals and will work to get you to the end of your divorce journey as painlessly as possible.
- Viewing Divorce as a Zero-Sum Game
That is, viewing divorce as a game – or a series of games – to be won or lost. You get the house, a win for you. Your spouse has more parenting time, a win for them. The problem with the zero-sum approach is that no one really wins or loses in a divorce, and each spouse is left feeling dissatisfied.
In general, divorcees are more satisfied with the outcome of their divorce if they have compromised and reached agreements with their spouse, rather than leaving the decisions up to a judge. A judge will try to do what they believe is best for your family, but they don’t know you or your children. Like it or not, you will have to live with the judge’s decisions.
By viewing divorce as a process of negotiations and compromises, you can focus on what is most important to you – be it keeping the marital home or your retirement accounts – and making concessions on the things that are less important. This give and take approach results in a divorce where each spouse walks away feeling like at peace with the outcome – or at least like they haven’t been taken to the cleaners.
- Fighting too hard for a 50/50 Parenting Time Schedule
This common mistake probably comes as a surprise, but hear this one out. Most people assume that they need to have an exact 50/50 parenting time schedule in order to be an “equal parent” with their ex. This is a fallacy, though, because all parenting time is not created equally. You could end up spending thousands of dollars fighting over a schedule that, at the end of the day, may not actually provide you with an equal amount of quality parenting time.
Think about it this way: your ex has the majority of parenting time during the week; however, during this time he or she is at work from 8 to 5, and the kids are in school. Substantive parenting time really only occurs in the evening from dinner time until bedtime. You, on the other hand, have the majority of your parenting time on the weekends when both you and the kids are free from work and school. All of your time can be spent with your children and, hour for hour, your “weekend warrior” schedule ends up being pretty equal.
Furthermore, the number of days spent with your children – if a little more or less than you ex – is not the only indicator of whether you are an equal parent to your children. Attending parent-teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments, and extracurricular activities and making decisions for the children with your ex are all a part of being an equal parent. This is not to say that you should agree to a schedule where you are receiving significantly less parenting time, but rather that you shouldn’t get so hung up on the numbers of an exact 50/50 parenting time schedule to your detriment. Remember, your children are not counting the days they spend with you – they are counting the memories you make during your time together.
- Announcing the Divorce on Social Media
At first glance, posting about your divorce on social media seems harmless. We often use social media as a way to keep our friends and family updated on the happenings in our life – particularly now, during COVID-19, when grabbing a drink with friends isn’t a possibility. If you are an active social media user, you may feel compelled to announce your divorce in the same manner as you would any other major life event – say, the purchase of a new home.
The pitfall to announcing your divorce publicly on social media is that, even with the best of intentions, your message may not come across as you planned. Be prepared for some backlash. Mutual friends may be upset by the news and feel like they have to choose sides. Family members may be upset that they heard about your divorce on Facebook, rather than from you personally. Your ex may get very angry (and rightly so) that you shared such personal information on a public platform.
Ultimately, what and when you choose to share the news about your divorce is up to you. If you must post something about your divorce, consider your audience and whether it would be upsetting for your family to learn about the news online.
Another word of advice: never disparage your ex on social media. Remember, once something is in the realm of the world wide web, it is extremely difficult to remove it even if you delete the post. And you better believe that your ex (or his or her attorney) is going to find it and try to use it against you. If you must vent about your ex, share with a close friend or write it in a journal but, for the love of all things good, keep it off of Facebook!
- Letting the Divorce Become All Consuming
When you are in the midst of a divorce, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else. Thoughts about dividing assets, figuring out who will take which debt, and how parenting time will work can keep you up at night. It’s a lot to think about, a lot to figure out, and the divorce process with the court requires a lot of work for both the parties (filing a Petition, exchanging financial information, etc.). The problem arises when the divorce becomes all-consuming, negating room in your life for anything else.
Divorce is tough – there’s no denying that fact. It’s important, though, to remember that divorce is a process not an event. That is, getting a divorce takes time. Just as you and your ex did not build your life together overnight, you will not be able to untangle in days or even weeks. In fact, many states have a three month, six months or even one-year waiting period until your divorce can be finalized.
So, take a deep breath. Plan time to work on the things you need for your divorce – maybe devote an hour a day, or only work on divorce things on Tuesdays and Thursdays – so that you focus some time on things that bring you happiness and joy. Carve out some time for self-care, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day working on a project you care about. Taking care of yourself during your divorce will help you have a clear mind and focus when you really need it.
Just remember, there is no “perfect” divorce. There will be bumps along the way, and both you and your ex are going to have some slips ups. By avoiding these common divorce mistakes, though, you can make the process a little easier and start writing the first chapter of your life.