We have all seen it. We have a client who is completely drowning in the divorce process and is too far gone to bring back to shore. Divorce is one of the most emotional life transitions that a person can endure. Unlike some life changes that are inherently happy or inherently sad, divorce can come with a range of emotions. Running on pure emotion without applying logic and reason to your decisions can lead to any of these four common mistakes people make during divorce.
4 Mistakes People Make During Divorce
1. Hiring the wrong attorney.
As a divorce attorney, I hesitated to include this in the list because it could definitely come off as shameless self-promotion. But the reality is that hiring the right attorney can make all the difference in your divorce process. You do not have to hire the most expensive attorney or even the attorney who posts the most articles or has the biggest name. But please find an attorney who knows the law, understands your goals and is looking out for your best interests over his or her own bottom line.
The reality is that every attorney will want to be paid for his or her time, but this does not mean that your attorney should see your case as the gravy train. Do not hire an attorney simply because he comes in cheapest of all of the attorneys that you met with. Do not hire an attorney simply because she is the only attorney that you know.
Why is this a huge mistake? Think of your divorce as a football game. You are the quarterback and your divorce attorney is the coach. You know the game, and you have been on the field with your opponent before. The coach’s job is to see the bigger picture and tell the quarterback what his best play is. The quarterback typically listens to the coach, but can occasionally call an audible. What happens if you have a perfectly skilled quarterback, but a coach who knows nothing about football? What happens if you have a perfectly skilled quarterback, but a coach who does not know how to communicate with him or understand what he needs to play the game? Odds are the team will lose and lose big.
If you hire the wrong attorney – one who does not practice or understand family law, who does not have experience with your type of case, and one who does not understand you and your goals – you will be lost. Do your research and find the right fit relative to expertise, understanding of your goals and cost. You need to hire someone that you will feel comfortable calling the plays for you. Hire the right attorney, and then listen to her.
2. Listening to friends and family instead of your lawyer.
It is perfectly normal to need and seek a support network during a divorce. You will need a sounding board, a free counselor, and people to listen to you vent. However, you may also hear from your friends and family that Neighbor Nancy was only married for three months and received fifteen years of alimony at $150,000.00 per year. Or, you may hear that Coworker Craig has six children and does not have to pay child support. You will then start to compare these mythical tales to your own divorce.
Perhaps your well-meaning brother may want to talk to you in detail about how he saw your soon-to-be-ex-wife out on a date, and therefore, she should not be entitled to anything. Next thing you know you are spiraling into Huge Mistakes Number Three and Four.
Why is this a huge mistake? Your family and friends mean well and only want the best for you. The mistake here is multi-fold: Typically, your family and friends are not attorneys and therefore have no idea that their suggestions to you are not legally plausible. In the event that your family or friend IS an attorney, he or she may not be well-versed in family law. In the event that your family or friend IS a family law attorney, remember you did not hire him or her for a reason. Probably because you realize that your brother, cousin, or friend from spin class is too close to you, or you prefer that this person not know all of your personal details.
Listen to your attorney. The one that you trust because you carefully selected her after paying close attention to Huge Mistake Number One. Your attorney knows the law, all of the details of your case that you may not have shared with friends and family, and is removed enough from the situation to make non-emotional decisions for you. Also remember that what your friends and family may think is best for you (such as watching your spouse live in a miserable, penniless life) may not be what YOU actually want.
3. Allowing revenge to become more important than reason.
I can always see when it’s happening. I have a perfectly reasonable conversation with a client about a perfectly reasonable settlement proposal that should be made or accepted. And she says “I would rather pay you another $20,000.00 to go to trial than pay him a dime.” Or he says “I want her to feel the same pain that she caused me.” I give every speech that I can think of: My famous “don’t pay me $20,000.00 to save $10,000.00” speech; my “You will not be able to move on until this is all over” speech. None of them resound, because the act of revenge has become more important than the practicality of reason.
Why is this a huge mistake? Revenge is expensive. While you are in the heat of a divorce litigation, revenge seems like a great idea. When everything is over and you have paid your attorney a lot of money, or worse yet, been ordered by the Court to pay your spouse’s legal fees along with your own as a result of your unreasonable behavior, you tend to rethink your bloodthirst for revenge. Maybe your spouse now hates you as much as you hate him or her. Maybe now your children also hate you (See number one above). Maybe you now have to rent out a room from your brother because you’ve spent all of your money.
The point is, none of this is what you ultimately want to achieve. Divorce does not need to be about suffering. It should be about doing what you need to do to start a new chapter of happiness in your life. Don’t focus on the wrong details.
4. Losing sight of what’s most important.
In reality, the most important part of any divorce is the emotional health and well-being of your family. If you have children, this means that your priority is to shelter them from the emotional turmoil that often accompanies a divorce litigation. If you don’t have children, this means doing whatever is necessary to shelter yourself from the emotional turmoil that often accompanies divorce litigation.
If this means finding a therapist, religion or even going so far as to lie to your children and tell them that mommy or daddy is just fine when you’re about to fall apart, that is what you do. It is perfectly OK to lean on friends and family to help you when needed. But remember that at the end of the day, your family is the most important thing in the world. Everything you do, every decision you make, every settlement offer that you accept or don’t accept should be done to protect the emotional well-being of our family.
Why is this a huge mistake? The saddest thing that I ever hear from former clients is that they got everything that they wanted in the divorce, but their children don’t speak to them anymore. In that case, did you really win? Perhaps you got an extra few dollars of alimony or didn’t have to give up the shore house. But now your family hates you, and that is not worth the alimony or the shore house. Unless you hate your kids too, in which case, you should ignore this entire tip.
Divorce is never easy, even in the most amicable circumstances. Avoiding these common mistakes people make during divorce will save you emotional turmoil, regret, time and money. Additionally, avoiding these pitfalls can put you into the position to move on to a healthy emotional and financial space post-divorce.
Robyn E. Ross, Esq. is certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, a qualified family law mediator, and founding partner of the firm Ross & Calandrillo, LLC in Mountainside, New Jersey. www.rcfamilylawyers.com