7 Most Common Divorce Mistakes

Every person and every marriage is unique. However, many multifaceted divorces have several things in common: mistakes the litigants make. There’s no question that divorce can be painful, costly, and difficult. The nature of the process itself brings out common behavior and thoughts among the people experiencing it. Avoiding these missteps can help you move your divorce along more quickly, reduce the pain and suffering you go through, and keep your costs down.

Be aware of these common errors:

1. Holding Out Hope for Reconciliation

It’s hard to call this a mistake since, of course, if you think your marriage could be saved, you should try to make it work. Counseling and therapy and devoting a lot of energy to your marriage could definitely turn things around. A marriage that has a chance should not be cut off prematurely.

However, the truth is that by the time most people make an appointment to see a lawyer, it’s too late. Nobody thinks seeing a divorce lawyer is fun, and no one wants to begin the process of a divorce until they are certain there are no other options. By the time a spouse schedules a consultation with an attorney, the couple has usually tried everything they can. While it is true that often one spouse tries harder than the other, that is simply a further indication that the marriage can’t be saved.

Once you begin divorce proceedings, the hope of reconciliation is remote. Yet many people do hold onto hope that their spouse will finally see the light and come back to them. Because they are hoping for reconciliation, some people try to delay the divorce as long as possible, or they want the divorce to be particularly financially brutal in the hopes that their spouse will realize their mistake. Neither of these tactics works. Each simply results in further resentment and an increasing deterioration of whatever goodwill remains between the spouses.

Once one spouse has decided the marriage is over, the truth is that it’s almost always over. It can be hard to accept that (but therapy is very helpful), but by accepting it and focusing on how to come out of the divorce as easily as possible, you can begin to build your post-divorce reality.

2. Seeking Revenge

The desire for revenge is one of the most common reactions to divorce. You believe your spouse has hurt you, they are trying to take things from you, they are ruining your life, they have hurt your children, and they have done terrible things. The reaction to this is frequently a desire to hit back. If they hurt me, I will hurt them more. Seeking revenge through financial outcomes or by damaging your spouse’s relationship with or access to the children are prevalent courses of action.

The desire for revenge is a natural response to the pain of divorce. It’s a self-preservation response that is almost automatic for many people. However, the truth is that it’s not helpful, and in fact, it is harmful to everyone involved (you, your spouse, and your kids). Divorce is not about revenge. It is a legal process that divides the couple’s assets and debts according to state laws. It is also about creating a parenting plan that will benefit the children and allow them to move forward with as little disturbance as possible. There is no room for revenge in these two processes.

Seeking revenge makes it difficult to see and understand the rules governing the division of assets and the parenting of children. The court does not make decisions based on who has hurt the other person the most. Instead, the court is trying to make fair determinations that conform to the legal standards.

Seeking revenge will extend the time your divorce takes because, most likely, you will feel the need to press for unrealistic outcomes. Your feelings of hurt and anger are valid. There are avenues to explore them and resolve them (such as therapy). They are not useful in your divorce case, though.

3. Hiring a Lawyer You Use for Other Things

You probably trust your family attorney to handle many of your affairs. But an attorney who handles your business, real estate, and may have created trusts or wills is not one who is experienced in high-stakes divorce. While you may trust your attorney completely, you absolutely must work with an attorney who has experience handling a divorce like yours.

You can definitely ask your attorney for a referral, but you should not ask that attorney to begin your case. Even filing initial papers can have a drastic impact on the outcome of your complex divorce, so you need to have an attorney who handles only high-stakes divorces handle your case from the beginning.

4. Listening to Other People

We are all highly susceptible to influence. When you are facing a divorce, it’s natural to want to get input from people you trust. However, no one understands the details and nuances of your divorce more than your attorney does. While friends and family may have been through divorce, their divorces were not the same as yours, even if they were multifaceted divorces. The only advice you should take is the advice your attorney offers.

5. Not Having Clear Goals

You can’t achieve your goals if you don’t define them. With the help of your attorney, at the outset of your divorce, it is important to establish what you are trying to achieve through the process. What are your must-haves? What are you willing to compromise on? Understanding these benchmarks provides clear guidelines for how the case should progress and how it should be handled. If you have vague goals, such as just wanting whatever you can get, it’s likely you won’t be satisfied with any outcome. Instead, work with your attorney to understand what is fair and what is attainable and set your goals based on those indicators.

6. Having Unrealistic Expectations

You may come into the divorce process as a high-achieving individual who has always exceeded in every challenge put in your way, and you assume that you’ll also get an outcome much better than anyone else ever has in this instance as well. Working with an experienced and skilled attorney will give you an edge in your case, but there are laws and hard standards that are applied in every divorce. Your attorney will find the best possible outcome for you, but the truth is divorce is going to impact your wealth and your parenting simply because changes have to be made in almost every case.

Understanding what the guidelines are, where the gray area is and what your attorney thinks is achievable will allow you to set realistic expectations for your divorce so that you will fully understand the possible outcomes and have time to prepare for them.

7. Not Being Honest with Your Attorney

Your divorce attorney is someone you have just begun to work with, and you may be reluctant to trust someone who is new in your circle. Divorce involves many very private parts of your life – your finances, your children, your relationship with your spouse, relationships you may have had with other people, and more.

Keeping some facts or details to yourself is a massive mistake though. Your divorce attorney needs to know the full and complete truth about everything that is involved in the divorce, including difficult facts or things your or your spouse have done which you may not want to admit or talk about, including affairs, domestic violence, skirting tax laws, concealing assets, assets you have in other countries, secret deals, and more. Your attorney must be armed with all the facts to fully protect you, so it is essential to be completely honest.


Naomi Schanfield

Naomi Schanfield concentrates on all aspects of matrimonial and family law, including, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, divorce, equitable distribution, child custody and visitation, support matters, family offense disputes, and domestic violence.

To connect with Naomi: 212.682.6222 | Online

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