Mistake Number 10 – Setting an Angry Tone
The beginning of the divorce usually sets the tone throughout the divorce process. If the divorce is started with anger, anger will permeate throughout the divorce and make a logical and reasonable resolution very difficult. This does not mean that a person must be able to shut off emotions or not deal with such emotions, but it does mean that a person must be able to somehow look past such emotions and deal with the issues in a logical and strategic manner. Everything that is done throughout the divorce process should be done with a tone towards resolving the disputes and not worsening an already difficult situation. Please note that a reasonable tone does not mean giving in to unreasonable demands, but it does mean recognizing reasonable demands. Even if the other person is letting anger eat them alive from the inside, a person setting a reasonable tone will find that they will be in a much better position, at least mentally, to endure this painful situation.
Mistake Number 9 – Using the Children as Pawns
Surprisingly, I have found that most people are very aware of the harm divorce can have on their children and they try very hard not to use their children as pawns or to turn the children against one parent. However, when children are introduced into the legal mix of a divorce to score points against the other parent, the very worst comes out in the parents. The biggest loser is not the other spouse, but the children. In the end, I have often seen children realize the truth. It may take years, but kids are very sharp and often understand manipulation. The children will not forget and they may develop anger toward the offending parent.
Mistake Number 8 – Unrealistic Expectations
Every jurisdiction is different and every case is different. Your lawyer should be your guide and not your family and friends. Think about what you would like to see happen in your divorce and what you think would be a fair outcome. Convey your thoughts to your attorney and let your attorney tell you whether you have realistic expectations. You want an attorney who will not only fight for those things that are obtainable, but also an attorney who will tell you when your expectations are too high. I believe that my biggest job, and sometimes my hardest job, is managing my client’s expectations.
Mistake Number 7 – Not Hiring an Attorney
In many situations, a husband and a wife come to an agreement as to property and children before or during a divorce. This is a great development and should be encouraged by any lawyer. However, it is still critical to seek the advice of counsel. Sometimes, people make agreements that simply cannot legally work or that cannot practically work. While standard, boilerplate divorce agreements are not always correct for every situation, there are reasons that we have developed standard orders as to child support, medical support, conservatorship, visitation and property division. A person without an attorney has no idea what is usual or unusual, or what a Court in a particular area will accept or reject. Every person needs to know his or her rights, so hire an attorney early in the process.
Mistake Number 6 – Hiring the Wrong Attorney
Attorneys come in all forms and with all kinds of personalities. You need to like and trust your attorney. If you cannot stand your attorney, think about hiring someone else. However, it is much easier to take care of this issue before hiring the attorney. Meet with the attorney to discuss your case. Do you want the attorney to have the personality of a pit bull, a lab or something in between? Hiring the right lawyer can dramatically reduce your expenses and attorney’s fees. Do you want an attorney who stirs the pot to generate more hours of billing, or do you want a lawyer who at least attempts to reasonably resolve your case before escalating your case to WW III? If possible, get a friend or family member to refer you to an attorney. This is an important and critical decision that, again, sets the tone for your divorce.
Mistake Number 5 – Not Knowing the Community Assets
I find that many people do not know the community assets, how much their spouse earns or even if their spouse has a retirement account through their job. It is very important that each person knows what has been accumulated during the marriage. As to the earnings of their spouse, this information is critical to determine how much child support should be paid. In Texas, child support is based on a percentage of the net earnings and the percentage is based on the number of children. As to other assets, unless everyone is being open about what property has been accumulated during the marriage, undisclosed property or bank accounts can be hidden without expensive discovery taking place. Therefore, it is critical to at least be somewhat inquisitive about not only the assets, but all the financial aspects of the marriage, including all liabilities and debts of the marriage.
Mistake Number 4 – Withholding Information
When you meet with your attorney, you should be completely open and honest. You would think that this statement should go unsaid, but it is amazing how much information is withheld by clients. Remember that your attorney is there to help you, not just with the good but also the bad. The attorney will not judge you, but must know what problems may lurk ahead. It is hard for an attorney to defend you when the attorney is blindsided in Court. Further, keep in mind that what you may think is a major problem is only a speed bump. Your worry may be for nothing. Knowing what to worry about and how to counteract that problem will make you feel better than leaving your attorney in the dark.
Mistake Number 3 – Seeing Only Trees and No Forest
In a divorce, it is very easy to concentrate on small, unimportant details and miss the whole picture. Suddenly, a lamp or other small item becomes the focal point. As an attorney, I have realized that most of the time, my client is not really concerned about the small item, but is trying to make a point to their husband or wife. Do not get caught in this trap. You can spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on a lawyer fighting about some small issue or you can go out, buy the item yourself and move on with your life. Of course, you must stand up for yourself on issues of great importance, but not every issue is of great importance. Ask yourself why something appears to be of great importance and why you feel that way. Some issues worth fighting about are obvious…custody, visitation, child support, etc. But not every detail of even those matters must be met with aggression or a lack of desire to resolve those issues. Pick your battles based on your priorities.
Mistake Number 2 – Having the Last Word
If you must have the last word, your divorce will be nasty and mentally exhausting. A person going through a divorce must realize that whatever happened in the past is not going to be changed with the conclusion of a divorce. There is no real winner in a divorce. Do not get me wrong; I am not talking about situations that involve physical violence or child abuse. In those cases where such violence and/or abuse are present, they must be addressed in the divorce to protect those parties involved.
I have always believed that when a person is so consumed with anger that they cannot give an inch and must be nasty to the other party, there is really nothing that I can do as their lawyer to truly give them peace of mind. And when the venom is spewing from the other side, I try to advise my client to mentally let it go or the anger will tear them apart. If you want to “win”, make peace with your situation and with yourself.
Mistake Number 1 – Romance 1st and Divorce 2nd
It is easy to say, sometimes hard to do, but still good advice – Never leave one relationship for another. When you leave one relationship for another, both will be tainted. A person must finish one before starting another. This is not only fair to your spouse, children, and a new love, but even more importantly, it is fair for you. If you really want a problematic divorce, start and flaunt a new relationship. If you want another problematic relationship, bring your old luggage with you as you navigate the rough waters of a divorce. Recently in court, I had the opportunity to deal with the fiancée of my client’s husband. Yes, she was his “fiancée” even though her prospective husband was still married to my client. Even in Harris County, Texas, where the courts see and hear all types of terrible things, the court was offended. If you cannot stay away from another relationship out of respect for others, at least do it for self-preservation!
While the way your spouse may act during a divorce cannot be controlled by you, you do have the choice about how you will act and respond. Do not waste precious time and energy trying to control those things that you cannot control. Instead, pinpoint your time and energy into those things you can control. Prioritize your battles. Plan for not only the immediate future, but also make plans for your new life. Do not give up, but get up and be resolved to not only survive, but to overcome this difficult time in your life. It really is up to you.