Mistake #1: Failing to understand the legal process. It is essential that you hire an experienced attorney who can guide you quickly and inexpensively through your divorce.
Mistake #2: Confusing your need for emotional divorce and recovery with the business decisions of separating assets and debts fairly. The legal process of divorce deals only with assets, debts, and caring for your children. Emotional issues are yours to work out with friends or a therapist.
Mistake #3: Forgetting to weigh the cost vs. the benefit of each contested decision. Some things are worth fighting for, others aren’t. Always weigh the cost of the fight against the benefit you hope to derive to determine if the issue is worth the expense.
Mistake #4: Putting emotional value on “winning” the final contest with your spouse; or, even worse, hurting your spouse rather than assuring yourself a good situation when your divorce is completed. You’re wrong to view this as a contest. You’re wrong to try to hurt your spouse. After the divorce has ended, you want a good, positive environment in which both you and your former spouse can raise your children.
Mistake #5: Hiding assets, cheating and lying. If your spouse suspects you are being dishonest, your spouse will tell her attorney; who may figure out, at great expense, how to prove your deceit. Then you may have to pay for your deception.
Mistake #6: Believing that to win the children, the children must lose the other parent. The greater the win, the greater your children’s injury and loss.
Mistake #7: Deciding to fight everything. The greater the fight, the more costly the process becomes and the more you pay. Fighting over every asset can assure the assets will be sold to pay for the fight.
Mistake #8: Believing you will get revenge for all the pain your spouse has caused you. Every attack results in a defense that injures the attacker. As a result, revenge becomes a form of self injury.
Mistake #9: Believing you don’t need help to protect yourself from further injury. If you believe your spouse will take care of you in your divorce, your spouse will, but not in the way that you want. You need to take control of and make each business decision involved in your separation and divorce. These decisions form your foundation for the initial success or difficulty of your separate life.
Mistake #10: Not moving quickly to divide assets and separate fairly when it sounds as though your spouse might. Often, early on, people can recognize the fair division and divide their property. Fear of further pain, confusion, and your not knowing what you want for yourself can cause conflict over items of small value. Avoid a final contest of wills. If your spouse feels a victory in accomplishing what is for you a quick and painless decision, good. If your spouse feels a win in a decision in which you win too, good. Make decisions that are in your best interest and leave your spouse’s feelings about winning or losing to your spouse.
Mistake #11: Not taking the time necessary to assure yourself that everything is fair. You need to review each decision with your own internal sense of fairness. Also, you need to review the fairness of each decision with your attorney or, if you are representing yourself, with someone whose purpose is to help you review decisions impartially and separate from your injured feelings.
Mistake #12: Trying to be sure every detail is fair and in place. Separate the business decisions in your divorce from the emotional choices of pain and recovery. If you are concerned with every detail, you may be forgetting the resulting expense in attorney’s fees. You may be acting with the fear that unless you nail down every detail, you might be hurt again by your soon-to-be ex. But in reality, you must make the business decision about when enough is enough.
Mistake #13: Believing “supportive” comments of friends about not “getting taken” and what a jerk your spouse is. Deal with your pain separately from your spouse and the business decisions of ending the divorce. Each attempt to “get” your spouse will boomerang and further injure you. When divorce is at hand, you need to end the injury. That means ending all efforts aimed at your spouse other than communications of sorrow, mutual loss, and supporting your spouse’s relationship with the children.
Mistake #14: Failing to start with a realistic vision or goal of what you want to have when your divorce is over. Know what you need emotionally and in the form of money or property to succeed in your separate life. Aim each decision at accomplishing those goals.
Mistake #15: Choosing the wrong attorney. Hiring a lawyer is a decision that deserves a great deal of research and attention. It’s easy to choose the attorney with the largest yellow-pages ad, or the attorney whose office is closest to your home. But what you really want is the lawyer who has the knowledge, skill, judgment and experience to get you through the divorce process with the least negative impact on your children, your finances and your emotions. Make sure the lawyer is someone you trust, someone you like, and someone you can depend on for competent advice.
Mistake #16: Not following your lawyer’s advice. During a divorce, you’ll get advice from nearly everyone you know, and perhaps even people you don’t know. Remember: Divorce is a legal process and the person best trained and experienced to handle the legal process is your lawyer. When selecting a lawyer, make sure you choose an attorney you trust. Then, when your lawyer gives you advice, follow it. Certainly, as the client, you should ask questions if your lawyer suggests something you don’t understand or something with which you don’t agree. Add to this the emotional roller-coaster ride of divorce, and you’ll probably find times you’re confused or not thinking clearly. This is natural and normal. Also, that’s another reason to trust your lawyer to help you make clear decisions based on his experience. You may want to take more risks than your attorney recommends. That’s okay. But be sure your attorney explains — and you understand — the possible consequences of those risks. Obviously, the more experience your attorney has, the more likely that your lawyer can help you make good decisions.
Mistake #17: Failing to write out a plan to help you with your emotional pain and recovery. Your divorce is the legal process of dividing your assets and debts and creating a plan to care for your children. Your divorce does not include setting up a recovery plan to work with your emotions. Make sure you take specific steps to deal with your emotions. A good attorney can make helpful suggestions in these areas.
Mistake #18: Making decisions that don’t make sense when you evaluate them based on their costs and benefits. It does not make good business sense to “win” your battle and then bankrupt yourself with huge attorney’s fees. Nor does it make sense to fight over assets you will later have to sell to pay your attorney. Look at all decisions from the standpoint of their cost and benefit. If you aren’t sure what to do in a particular situation, ask your lawyer for his input.
Mistake #19: Being overly concerned about your spouse’s feelings. It’s natural that you are concerned about your spouse because going through a divorce is difficult for both of you. But if you spend your energy trying to look out for your spouse, you’ll end up shortchanging yourself and your children. Your spouse should assemble a support system that includes a therapist, lawyer, friends, and others. They will do what they can to make your spouse’s life easier. You make sure that you take care of yourself and your children and leave your spouse’s needs to others.