Common Divorce Mistakes

by Victoria McGrath
Legal advocates, family mediators and financial planners can help reduce common mistakes in divorce.

Legal advocates, family mediators and financial planners can help reduce common mistakes in divorce.

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Optimistic newlyweds approach marriage as a permanent commitment, without the real possibility of divorce. Unfortunately, divorces have real, profound and lasting consequences. Divorce negotiations, settlements and decrees permanently define your relationship and responsibilities. Common mistakes made during the divorce process can cause you to lose your home, retirement, custody rights and financial security. You need to understand what is at stake and protect yourself, your children and your assets.

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Emotional and Physical Separation

A common mistake in divorce is not being able to distinguish between the emotional challenges and the physical challenges. The emotional challenges include feelings of disappointment, betrayal, loss, mourning and anger. Whereas, the physical challenges include the division of assets, change of residence, child custody and financial indebtedness. Consider the negative consequences of letting your emotions lead the negotiations. For instance, if you feel guilty about cheating, you might agree to pay your spouse more alimony than is necessary. Or, if you feel angry that your spouse cheated, you might spend thousands of dollars dragging out the divorce in a mean and spiteful way.

Division of Assets

Couples commonly make mistakes in overvaluing or undervaluing their assets. If you overvalue your assets, you will be gravely disappointed when they are divided and you learn of their true value. If you underestimate your assets, you may settle for less than your fair share of marital property. Rather than negotiating the value of your assets with your spouse, employ a neutral financial planner or certified accountant to provide an unbiased accounting. An unbiased accounting can reveal the true value of your assets, debts and tax liabilities so you can avoid costly surprises down the road, such as high capital gains taxes if you decide to sell certain assets.

Marital Home

It is a common mistake for divorcing couples to fight over who gets to keep the marital home, without calculating whether or not they can even afford to keep it. The problem arises when the person who keeps the house does not have the income to pay the mortgage. An emotional need to keep the home for the children often results in overwhelming financial stress on the newly single parent. Even if the other spouse wants to help more financially, it may be impossible for him to support two households. Rather than struggle to keep the home, it often makes more sense to sell the house and not risk foreclosure or homelessness.

Custody Arrangements

A common mistake parents make in divorce is to aggressively argue over child custody and visitation with no flexibility at all. The bitter arguments often lead to resentment between spouses and alienation of the noncustodial parent. Consider the consequences of a custody order that denies one parent's rights and alienates him from the family. The children potentially lose his parental affection. Instead, focus on which parent possesses the better temperament to be the primary caregiver and which parent holds more earning potential in the workforce. Family law mediators help parents hammer out child custody arrangements that consider the needs of both the parents and children.

Legal Advocate

Divorcing couples commonly make the mistake of sharing a divorce attorney to save on legal expenses. Couples that share a divorce lawyer miss out on the benefit of advocacy. A good lawyer advocates for her client, to ensure her client's best interests are protected. A single lawyer cannot adequately advocate for both the husband and wife during negotiations. Your own personal lawyer fights for what you want during the negotiations, with the ability to be both collaborative and adversarial when necessary.