Worst Divorce Mistakes Part Two: In the Thick of It

By Stacey H. Langenbahn, J.D.

Advice from a divorce lawyer: Don’t start off on the wrong foot. Read part one to avoid costly mistakes at the beginning of your divorce. Once you are in the middle of divorce, beware of these gigantic divorce mistakes that can destroy your family and finances, and wreck you emotionally!

1. Demand everything and offer nothing: Fear can cause people in divorce to demand things they know they can’t get like all the assets with none of the debt, more spousal maintenance than the take home pay, or sole custody of a child when both are fit parents. Taking unreasonable positions fuels an equal and opposite reaction and will quickly land you in endless litigation. It’s too late to back off your tough stance when there’s nothing left to divide except debt and attorney's fees because all the assets have been drained to pay lawyers to defend polar positions.
Solution: Borrow a technique from collaborative mediators and collaborative lawyers. State your needs in terms of interests, not demands. Tell your spouse why what you want is important to you. Only with that knowledge can each of you negotiate to reach mutual agreements that best meet your needs. For example:
  • “The children would be more secure staying in their neighborhood school near their friends” versus “I must have the house”
  • “I’m concerned I won’t have enough money when I reach my company’s mandatory retirement age” versus “I refuse to split my pension and 401k"
  • "I want to be an involved parent and an active part of my children's lives" versus "I have to have 50/50 time with the kids"
2.  Make a public spectacle of your spouse: Be careful what you wish for. Stop and think before encouraging or allowing a lawyer to humiliate or embarrass your spouse by revealing his or her “character traits” in court. Would public exposure of your spouse’s infidelity, addiction, or mental or physical illness damage your children, permanently ruin your spouse’s reputation (or your own), or jeopardize either of your jobs or careers? If you are relying on that spouse for child support and spousal maintenance, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot if you take him or her down in your shortsightedness.
Solution: Instead of litigating, choose to deal privately with these issues in divorce mediation or collaborative law which are confidential processes. Personal problems can be openly addressed and effectively managed in mediation or collaborative law without devastating consequences.
3.  Sling false accusations: Lies and false accusations in divorce backfire in the end. Remember that falsely accusing your spouse of things like drug use, verbal and physical abuse, and bad parenting will result in a social study not only of your spouse, but of you too. Even if you have nothing to hide but you make up stories to discredit your spouse, you can be sure your spouse will be just as creative and come up with something equally or more damaging about you that a social worker and a judge just might believe. When untruths or financial dishonesty in divorce is discovered (and there is a strong probability it will be in this age of electronic records and social media), it can result in loss of future family relationships or custody of a child, unequal property divisions, and criminal penalties.
Solution: Studies show children of divorce grow up emotionally stable and go on to have healthy relationships of their own when their parents cooperate and communicate. In the throws of divorce don’t let anger or fear drive you to do or say things you might regret that will damage your ability to have a good relationship with your ex in the future. Never make important decisions when you are distraught, overly tired, hungry, scared, or emotional. Wait until you are calm and thinking clearly when you can weigh the long term effect your actions or inactions will have on your life and those around you. If there is an imbalance of power, seek out an experienced divorce mediator to assist you in negotiations to level the playing field.
4.  Stop seeing your therapist or pastor:  Divorce is the second highest life stressor behind death of a loved one. One of the biggest changes many divorcing spouses report is they no longer have a close adult to talk to everyday.  This can make for loneliness, fear, and insecurity when you need support the most. Feeling scared and alone can make you vulnerable to commiting one or more of the above mistakes.  
Solution: Stick with or find a therapist, pastor, or support group to help get you through. Knowing you are not alone, feeling understood, and having a sense of being grounded are all very important to making well thought out decisions in divorce and to healing afterward. 
Be smart about the way you handle your divorce! Avoiding the worst mistakes at the beginning and when you are in the throws of divorce will help you save time, money, and your family!