When the dream of staying married “Till Death Do You Part” has gone by the wayside, we all move to the next ideal dream, which is an entirely amicable divorce in which both parties are fully accommodating to the other and both parties come out of the legal process with an equitable share of the marriage’s assets.
In reality, divorce is one of the most emotionally difficult experiences a person can go through. It brings out the worst in people; this is something we all know. Emotions are strong and the stakes are critically high, affecting every part of your life from your money to your assets to your children. But allowing your emotions to take charge of your actions during the end stages of your marriage can have serious consequences on how you fare during the divorce process.
With that in mind, here are the top 8 Deadly Divorce Mistakes we see way too often here in New York.
1. Doing anything illegal
This is a no-brainer for most people; that is, when they aren’t in the thick of the emotional upheaval that a divorce. However, once your brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism has been triggered by the pain of the situation, anything can happen.
It is critically important that you avoid any of the major illegal behaviors that tend to take place in divorces; things like stalking your spouse, engaging in domestic violence, or withholding any financial support or visitation rights that you owe your spouse.
2. Being vindictive
This can encompass a whole class of behaviors, from the immature to the highly sophisticated. Don’t teepee your ex’s house, don’t speak ill of your ex to the kids, don’t be difficult to work with just to make life difficult for your ex. Remember: in a divorce proceeding, everything you do (or don’t do) can wind up coming before the judge, so now is your time to put your best foot forward so that you can plausibly present yourself as a person of great integrity.
Now is the moment to follow the Golden Rule, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because doing so will help you get the best possible outcome. So, be flexible on that extra weekend of visitation your ex wants. If you don’t really have a deep attachment to grandma’s china, let your ex have it. Don’t keep score on the small things that annoy you about your ex in order to present a laundry list of their faults to the judge. If you liked them, you wouldn’t be getting a divorce. Save your scorekeeping for the major problems.
It all boils down to one major point: the legal process of divorce is not a means of getting revenge.
You and your ex are both struggling with some of the most painful emotions you may ever experience. Revenge is not productive, helpful or necessary. Your integrity is on the line here, so act like the good person that you are. Keep your emotions in check and present yourself as diplomatic, supremely stable, compliant, caring, and willing to compromise.
3. Not keeping good records
For many clients, one spouse sees a divorce coming before the other one does. For wealthy clients, this can be a major weakness, especially if the spouse who sees the divorce coming happens to be the one who knows more about the family’s finances. So keep good records during your marriage of the assets you and your spouse share.
This way, if your spouse tries to shift assets out of accounts with joint ownership, you have proof that the assets existed and that you have a rightful claim to them. But keeping good records goes far beyond the finances. For example, if you suspect your spouse may claim that you have a drug problem, keep records of any drug tests you take that show you are not using any illicit substances.
Protect yourself by keeping good records of your finances and any other pertinent matters.
4. Keeping records
Ok, this is a lighthearted tie-in to a serious topic. Any communications you have with your spouse via email, text, or voicemail can become a record of your behavior, your personality, your state of mind, and your integrity before the court. Nothing you say, except to be completely amicable and diplomatic, can reflect poorly on you.
That strongly worded email or drunk voicemail you send at 1:00 a.m. isn’t going to look like a scathing record of your ex’s wrongdoings by the light of day in a courthouse. It is going to look like evidence that you are not as good, or amicable, or diplomatic as you are trying so hard to appear before a judge. So put down your phone and vent to your therapist, not your ex.
So at some point, you probably slipped up and made one of the mistakes listed in points one through four. You’ve pranked your ex, you’ve had too much to drink, or something worse. It is very tempting to deny what you’ve done to avoid consequences. Or your lie is of a different nature: maybe you’ve cheated on your spouse or you want to lie and hide assets from the court.
Whatever the lie may be, don’t do it! It is highly likely that your ex has evidence of some sort to back up their claims. The truth has an inconvenient way of coming out, and when it does, the judge won’t give you the benefit of the doubt. You can be held in contempt of court, or many other possible consequences.
At the very least, lies that are exposed negate the personal integrity that you must convey to the court in order to receive the best possible outcome. On the flip side, being truthful about your mistakes only adds to the judge’s perception of your integrity, so tell the truth!
6. Posting on social media
This relates to both points four and five. If your attorney is worth their salt, they will counsel you to desist from posting on social media entirely. And don’t let your friends post anything about you either! Social media posts never come to court in a positive light.
Your night out drinking with friends, your “vague” posts about your divorce or your ex, it all looks bad. Even the innocent posts can potentially be twisted, so just avoid social media during your divorce.
7. Crashing your ex’s time with the kids.
When you’re newly entering the sharing custody phase of your life, you will face a rollercoaster of emotions. You miss the kids, you worry about how your ex is handling them, you worry that they’ll have more fun with your ex than they do with you, or maybe you just want to interrupt the visit to annoy your spouse.
Whatever the reason, you start calling, texting, leaving voicemails. Your kids spend more time interacting with you over the phone than they do when you’re together! Don’t do this. It makes you look overly emotional, overly needy, and it also is typically against the rules of the custody arrangement. Remember: your kid has the right to contact you as much as they want; not the other way around.
8. Using the kids as pawns.
Among some of the worst instincts parents have is to manipulate their ex through the children. Not only is this highly detrimental to your kids’ development and the future of your relationship with them, but it is also against the rules. During the divorce proceedings, the judge will explicitly tell you that you are not allowed to discuss the divorce with your kids. This can be easier said than done, thanks to most kids’ lack of a filter.
The kids will talk to you about details as they try to process the situation, and it will make you feel instantly curious about your spouse’s plans. Tamp down your reaction! You are not allowed to discuss these matters with your minor children. Reply with something like, “thanks for sharing your thoughts with me,” and then steer the conversation to safer territory. Definitely don’t coach the kids about what you want them to say.