Too many people enter into a divorce proceeding and expect to get everything that they want. They frequently create a fantasy world of what they think they are entitled to. They do not measure their expectations base on the availability of resources or assets. People who have lived their entire married life from paycheck to paycheck all of a sudden believe that they are entitled to a huge sum of money. People who have lived very well because their spouse has been very successful at work frequently believe that they will continue the same lifestyle after divorce. People who have never worked while married frequently think that they can continue not working after divorce.
People expect that the Courts can make a person change. They demand that the Court make him quit drinking, or make her quit smoking. A spouse who was lazy before marriage, and remained lazy throughout the marriage, will be lazy after divorce. Sometimes I ask clients to carry an index card in their pocket or purse throughout the divorce. Once I get the commitment from the client, then I write on an index card: “I will not ask my attorney to make my spouse be a nice person; I will not ask the Court to make my spouse be a nice person; I admit that my spouse is not a nice person; I admit that I am powerless to do anything about it.”
Here are the ten fatal mistakes that many divorcing people make.
1. Having totally unreasonable expectations or demands.
If a client develops realistic expectations, focuses on achieving those expectations, and accepts the realistic probability of those expectations being met, they are much more likely to have a successful divorce.
2. Not preparing for trial because it’s assumed the case will settle.
A divorce is just like any other lawsuit, and there are two ways that it will be concluded. Either both parties will agree on every detail of the settlement and present it to the Court for approval. Of, if both parties do not agree on every detail, then a Judge will decide the issues for them.
It is important for people to remember once a divorce is filed, the parties frequently lose control of their divorce. Courts set deadlines. For example, there are discovery deadlines, and there are deadlines for filing inventories and financial information statements. Meanwhile, people frequently operate on the premise that they do not really need to adhere to any of these deadlines, because they are eventually going to work out a settlement and the divorce will be uncontested. Unfortunately, this often gets people in a tremendous bind. In many cases, a client’s expectation of settlement is really no more than a mere hope. By relying upon hope rather than reality, the client is really operating at a disadvantage.
Over the years, I have found that the greatest way to increase the probability that a case will actually settle is to very early on assume that the case is going to trial, and thus prepare the case accordingly. Frequently, this is the most economical way. Furthermore, if a case does go to trial, clients can expect a better result when they’re well prepared.
3. Assuming that your spouse will treat you fairly.
Just because you have an amicable relationship with your spouse does not mean that your spouse is going to treat you fairly. Frequently, clients are in a state of denial about their spouse. They think that their spouse “would never treat me in a bad way.” They believe that their spouse will take care of them financially, forever. However, the reality is often that a spouse, even one with whom you believe you have an amicable relationship, is angry or grieved – and if given the opportunity, will take advantage of you.
Furthermore, you have to remember that your spouse has made the decision that he or she is going to go forward in life without you. Therefore, when your spouse takes a look at the finances, property, retirement, etc. he or she is frequently making decisions that are designed to benefit him or her – even if that is to your detriment. You have to operate on the premise that your spouse is selfish and self-centered, and as such may not treat you fairly, or may hurt you.
4. Unnecessarily alienating your spouse.
Above, I advised that you should not always believe that your spouse will be fair and cooperative. By the same token, you should not go out of your way to unnecessarily alienate, irritate, or embarrass your spouse. Many times, objectives can be obtained through cooperation in a manner that cannot be obtained through the Courts. Frequently, creative lawyers are able to structure very rewarding financial settlements for clients, provided the soon-to-be ex-spouse feels as if he or she has been treated fairly and with dignity. Therefore, do not do foolish things, like call up your ex-spouse’s boyfriend or girlfriend, embarrass him or her at their place of employment on in front of family, or threaten. Also, if your case goes to trial, the way you have treated your spouse during the pendency of the case frequently has a very strong bearing on the way the Judge treats you in the final decision.
5. Entering into new relationships while a divorce is pending.
Divorce is one of the most stressful times in life. All of the plans, dreams, and hopes that you and your spouse have worked together for for years are shattered and thrown to the winds. The direction that you have had in your life is yanked out from underneath you. I frequently joke with clients that a divorce is like being a spider hanging on a spider web: you are constantly blowing back and forth in the wind.
It takes time to reshape your values, objectives, directions, and plans. Furthermore, it also takes a substantial commitment of time to work with your attorney, and to provide your attorney with adequate information so that you can thoroughly and completely prepare your case.
Entering into a new relationship while a divorce is pending is almost always a prescription for disaster. It frequently means that you are engaging in conduct that your soon-to-be ex-spouse may find offensive, that you are using what precious time you have to “party with a new person” rather than devote yourself to the preparation of your case, and that you are neglecting your job or profession.
Furthermore, entering into a relationship while your divorce is pending leaves you in a position where the new relationship is built upon the misery that you are suffering from. Who wants to start a new relationship that is built on past misery?
If possible, do not enter into new relationships while your divorce is pending. Instead, anchor into your family, your job, your religion, and the planning process of the divorce.
6. Not cooperating with your attorney.
All too frequently, people fail to cooperate fully with their attorney. They withhold critical information, and/or fail to provide their attorney with requested documents in a timely manner. Or, they frequently fail to adequately and completely respond to a discovery order, or simply neglect it altogether. They also frequently do not cooperate with their attorney in preparing an inventory or a financial information statement. If you fail to cooperate with your attorney, there is not a whole lot your attorney can do to fully and forcefully prepare, present, and argue your case.
7. Not following your attorney’s advice.
This is a delicate issue, because in any attorney/client relationship, you are the employer and your attorney is your employee. You are responsible for your attorney’s actions. You should not allow your attorney to run completely wild. Instead you should be the one who is making most of the decisions in the case, after conferring with your attorney. Conversely, your attorney should be a person who is knowledgeable about the family law courts, the applicable family law, and frequently, the opposing counsel. If you have chosen your attorney wisely, he or she can give you wealth of direction and guidance. Unfortunately, clients all too frequently choose to disregard the advice of their attorney, and instead rely upon someone else’s advice. Relying upon the advice of family members who have an axe to grind, co-workers, or friends – all the while without informing these people of all the facts of the case – is a prescription for disaster. If you have hired the right attorney for you, then follow your attorney’s advice.
8. Not choosing an attorney who focuses on Family Law.
It is in your best interest to work with an attorney who focuses their practice on family law in the same way that if you’d been accused of a crime it would be in your best interest to hire an attorney who focuses their practice on criminal law – it just makes sense.
9. Being overly generous.
Once a client decides that they are going to get divorced, they frequently want to do it right away. This is generally a bad move. Keep in mind that it took you a long, long time to get into your present predicament. You may have spent 10, 20 or 30 years working with your spouse, acquiring assets, acquiring retirement accounts, investments, houses, weekend properties, etc. To think that you are going to get this over with immediately is simply a fallacy. Once you enter into the divorce process, you lose some control over your own destiny, and you lose what influence you had over your soon-to-be ex-spouse. If he or she is not inclined to get it over with quickly (as many people are not), and you are very, very anxious, you will likely be overly generous with your spouse. While this may ensure that you get a quick divorce, it frequently means that you get a really bad deal.
10. Allowing your emotions to override logic.
As I pointed out above, divorce is one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. Frequently, a client is emotionally and physically exhausted by the time they enter into the divorce process. They’re distraught, they cannot really see how they are going to work through the situation and develop a life after divorce, they are angry, mad, and lack direction. All of these are normal reactions, and people need time to grieve.
However, once you enter into the divorce process, from a legal standpoint, it is much more of a business decision than it is an emotional decision. I urge all my clients to seek professional counseling. While attorneys have a wealth of practical knowledge, the simple fact is that we are not trained as counselors. Additionally, we are very expensive counselors. I find that clients who work with a professional counselor are able to get their emotions in check, and operate through a divorce in a logical, methodical manner. Conversely, clients who approach their divorce on an emotional level can expect poor results.
John K. Grubb practices family law in Houston. He has a BBA, MBA, and a JD Degree. John K. Grubb focuses a significant part of his family law practice on helping couples create premarital and prenuptial agreements in Texas.