As anyone who's gone through a divorce can tell you, the process is rarely easy. Tensions run high, and couples often make poor decisions in the heat of the moment.
Given the mountain of financial, practical, and emotional details that have to be sorted, it's not surprising so many couples wind up making critical mistakes on the road to divorce. However, there are a number of things you should do, or more specifically not do, to lessen the chance you'll regret your decisions later on.
Here are the top 10 tips on what to avoid when filing for divorce.
1. Don't get pregnant
Having a baby during your divorce complicates many things, and could even hinder your right to divorce. In November 2004, a Spokane County, Wash., judge refused to allow Shawnna Hughes, a pregnant woman, to divorce her abusive husband. Hughes' husband is not the father of her child. But because Hughes became pregnant during the divorce proceedings, state law presumes Hughes' husband to be the father of her child born up to 300 days after her divorce. The judge refused to grant Hughes a divorce because he was concerned there would be no father to take financial responsibility for the child. Although many states now grant single parents the same rights as married ones, having a child when you're in marital limbo can be problematic.
2. Don't forget to change your will
Getting divorced does not automatically revoke a will. If you want to prevent your soon-to-be-ex-spouse from receiving the monies and privileges granted them in your will, you need to update your will. You can re-do a will at any time. But if you die before you are granted a divorce, and you have left your spouse nothing, he or she can sue and recover part of your estate.
In a collaborative divorce, you can get the help of professionals—attorneys, divorce coaches, and therapists, to divide property and manage emotional stress. Some critics of collaborative divorce believe that attorneys, divorce coaches, and therapists who engage in collaborative divorce are not really experts, and cost too much time and money. But the majority of jurisdictions with collaborative divorce have stated that collaborative divorce is more cooperative and less adversarial than traditional divorce.
Mediation is different. Only one third-party professional—a divorce mediator—helps you and your spouse reach an agreement. Mediation is more of an ongoing process than a one-time intervention. Although lawyers are generally not allowed into mediation sessions, you can consult a lawyer at any time during the process to make sure you are getting the right result.
4. Don't sleep with your lawyer
It's easy to get close to the one person who is on your side. But it's also a big mistake. Some states prohibit all sexual activity between an attorney and client. Other states allow an attorney and client who had a sexual relationship before the case to continue the relationship. In either case, sleeping with your lawyer can compromise your attorney-client communications because you may be charged with adultery for the infidelity.
5. Don't take it out on the kids
Children need a supportive environment to deal with divorce. Minimize the amount you talk about the process. It will give you more time to be there for them. Refocus your energy so you can attend their school and after-school events, help them with homework, and take them out once in a while to the movies or the zoo. When you are relaxed, they get more relaxed. Though you should be comfortable talking with your children about the divorce, the point of this divorce is to relieve stress on you and your family.
6. Don't refuse to see a therapist
Seeing a therapist can help you get through the range of emotions that you will experience when dealing with divorce. It is a good idea to get help before you become extremely depressed or angry. A therapist is not just someone to talk to. They are also a professional who can show you how to relax, how to talk to your kids, and how to remain calm in court. Most importantly, a therapist can help you figure out how to become self-sufficient.
7. Don't wait until after the holidays
You already know the holidays are not going to be difficult. So why wait?
Divorce lawyers often see an increase in clients before, during, and after Christmas. It's also easier to get used to an empty home before the holidays. If you wait (and fight) through the season, you may destroy any chances for an amicable split and wind up hashing out your differences in court.
8. Don't forget about taxes
Typically, the person who is awarded custody of the children gets the house. But the house may not be the best deal. If you can't afford the mortgage, taxes, and upkeep on the house, you want to ask for an investment portfolio of equal value instead. However, before declaring yourself king or queen of your block, remember: Single people are not allowed to shelter as many capital gains from taxes. Stocks can also be at issue. Newly purchased stocks may be more desirable because they will cost you less in capital gains taxes.
9. Don't settle early
Just because you want out of your marriage immediately doesn't mean you should forfeit your financial security. Make multiple copies of all of your important financial documents: pension statements, tax forms, brokerage and mutual fund statements, credit card statements, and other records. It will make you aware of what you own and even what you owe.
Make sure that you and the children will continue to have health insurance during and after the divorce proceedings. While you are still married to your spouse, an illness, or accident can change how property is divided.
If you and your spouse can work out an amicable agreement on your own, you can file what's known as an "uncontested" divorce. This will save you both time and money in court costs.
If this is simply not possible, you may want to hire a professional mediator or an attorney. If you decide to retain legal counsel, remember to bring three things to the first meeting with your lawyer so you can assess what you will need once separated: a balance sheet listing the family's assets and debts, an accounting sheet of your income and expenses, and your tax return.
10. Don't increase your debt
Divorce is expensive. On top of attorney's fees, you will need money to set up a new household. Though it may be difficult to make ends meet, you should get used to having less now. Remember, your legal bills and court costs may come due before you receive your first payment of alimony or even your share of the marital property. While it may seem stressful, the freedom you'll enjoy down the line will be well worth the struggle.
One final note
Putting aside strong emotions in favor of cooperating with your spouse and managing the thornier issues of your separation with a calm and level head will definitely pay off in the long run. Both of you will make wiser decisions and come out of the process with fewer bruises.
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