If you are lucky, you’ll only have to get divorced once in your life.
And since this is likely your first time, you haven’t yet had a chance to learn from your mistakes.
In the spirit of making divorce less terrible for everyone, here are the top 10 mistakes to avoid in your divorce.
1. Taking legal advice from non-attorneys
Divorce is first and foremost a legal process. Your attorney is the best (and only) person from whom to get legal advice.
Your girlfriend who got divorced last year, your mom, your Financial Advisor, your CDFA, your soon-to-be-ex, and your therapist are not legal experts.
They cannot and should not be giving you legal advice. When someone in your life who is not your attorney tries to tell you how the law works, please ignore them.
2. Hiring (and then not firing) the wrong attorney
The attorney you hire will set the tone for your case. Hiring an aggressive attack-dog-style attorney just to punish your soon-to-be-ex will likely backfire in the form of conflict and large legal bills.
Conversely, hiring a creampuff who only mediates when you’re clearly in for a fight may result in you getting the short end of the stick.
You know the dynamics of your marriage better than anyone else.
Select an attorney who suits you and the divorce settlement process you want to use.
If you made a mistake and hired the wrong attorney to start, don’t be afraid to cut your losses and hire someone else.
3. Expecting too much from your attorney
Your attorney is your advocate and legal expert. Your attorney is not your therapist, CDFA, Insurance Agent, CPA, best friend, or a magician who can make your soon-to-be-ex stop acting like a jerk.
Realize that there are likely elements of your case that your attorney simply isn’t equipped to handle.
Seek help from the experts who are best equipped to solve the issues you have by building your own Divorce Team.
You’ll save money, heartache, and frustration in the process.
4. Failing to manage expectations
It will take longer than you think it should. It will cost more than you think it should. You’ll be unhappy with at least one or two elements of your final settlement agreement. Your soon-to-be-ex will misbehave.
It will be painful.
If you can manage your expectations going in, these facts will bother you less.
5. Trying to hide assets
Just don’t. Hiding assets angers your soon-to-be-ex, your attorney, and the judge. It’s also not likely to work.
If your soon-to-be-ex suspects you are hiding assets, they are likely to employ every legal means to get the information. That means higher legal bills on both sides and less money to split in the end.
Even if you do successfully hide some assets, if you are found out before the case settles, the consequences will not be pretty. Trying to hide assets simply isn’t worth the risk.
6. Splitting everything 50/50
There is a common misconception about divorce settlements that all assets must be split down the middle 50/50. This simply isn’t true.
When settlements are made in this manner, it can mean dealing with more piles of paperwork, more legal fees, long processing times to get your assets divided, and potentially adverse tax consequences for one or both parties.
When it comes to dividing the community pie, think a little outside the box.
7. Making decisions emotionally
While divorce is a legal process and essentially a business transaction, your emotions will still be charged. It will be terribly tempting to make decisions emotionally.
But allowing emotions to dictate your choices instead of making choices based on facts and data typically leads to poor outcomes.
Having a team of experts in place can help you make more clear-headed decisions that will benefit you down the road.
8. Failing to speak up
If you were bullied in your marriage, it’s likely that your soon-to-be-ex will bully you during the divorce. That can make speaking up about your needs and wishes difficult.
But no matter how timid, guilty, or apprehensive you feel, speak up.
Your attorney and the mediator on your case can’t help you craft a settlement agreement that serves your needs if you don’t make those needs clear.
9. Failing to look beyond the immediate future
A Divorce Decree is a binding document, and the choices you make during your settlement negotiations are largely irrevocable. If you aren’t thinking ahead, you could find yourself in a real bind months or years down the road.
Have a vision in your mind for what you want your post-divorce life to look like.
Based on that vision, you can then ask if a given provision of your agreement either serves or inhibits that. As they say: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
10. Failing to understand your settlement agreement
If your case has dragged on for months, you may be ready to take any agreement you can get without asking too many questions. Please resist the temptation to give in to your exhaustion.
Your divorce settlement is an irrevocable agreement that must serve your interests both now and years into the future.
I’ve seen clients who accepted agreements that left them with piles of debt, a house they can’t afford, assets they can’t access to support their immediate needs, or benefits they can’t use for many years into the future.
If you don’t understand what you are agreeing to and the implications of that agreement, you cannot move forward. Ask as many questions as you need in order to understand what you are agreeing on.
If your attorney can’t explain it to you, hire experts who can.
In short: Start off with a good attorney, take their advice, and hire other experts as needed.
Speak up for yourself, know what you want and need, and think creatively about asset division.
Keep those emotions in check, look to the future, and make sure you understand your settlement agreement.
If you can do these simple (yet not easy) things, you will have avoided the mistakes that cost most people big.