Top 10 Mistakes People Make During Divorce
When I first became a practicing attorney, the head partner in my firm told me that divorce is when you see good people act at their worst. Over the years, I have learned that piece of advice to be very true and seen the mistakes litigants make. This guide is to help people avoid those pitfalls.
1. DO NOT LIE TO YOUR ATTORNEY!!!
Many people think they are smarter than everyone else, including their own attorney. The reason you hire an attorney is to have someone on your side looking out for your best interests who knows all about divorce issues. If you lie to your attorney, in all likelihood, that lie will eventually be exposed either by your attorney or the adversary. If it is uncovered by your attorney, then he or she has an ethical obligation to advise the other side and the court of it, and most likely seek to be relieved as your attorney. The judge will find out about the lie regardless and then will have the underlying belief throughout the entire litigation that you are not an honest or credible person.
2. Do Not Respond Emotionally Or Immediately To Texts/Emails From Your Spouse
Emotional texts/emails are bound to be used against you, whether in terms of financial issues and/or the children. Remember that every text or email you send will end up before a judge. When emotions are involved, sanity sometimes goes out the window and you will say something that you will later regret and will be used against you by your spouse.
3. Do Not Make A Spectacle Of Yourself At Counsel Table
Judges hate when litigants make faces, or “huff and puff” when the other attorney or the judge is talking. It also does not help if you blurt out a comment to disagree with something your spouse’s attorney just said. Similarly, do not tug at your attorney’s arm or scribble feverishly on a legal pad and push it forcefully in front of your attorney. The judge sees everything that goes on and how you act will affect how the judge decides your case.
4. Do Not Make Comments In The Courtroom For Others To Hear
You may think that you are safe to say anything you want because the judge is off the bench. You are wrong. The judge’s sheriff’s officer, court clerk, coordinator and possibly the law clerk, may still be in the courtroom. If you are in the courtroom the sheriff’s officer will be present and most likely at least one other member of the judge’s staff. These people are the eyes and ears of the judge. They hear and see how you act and will report what they witness to the judge. In addition, other attorneys may be in the courtroom when you say something inappropriate and those attorneys may relay to the judge what was said.
5. Do Not Involve Your Children In The Litigation
This should be a “no-brainer,” but unfortunately, too many parents look at children as pawns during litigation, or weapons to use against their spouse. Judges see hundreds of cases and can usually tell when a parent’s motives concerning the children are not honorable. More importantly, you should realize the damage that you are doing to a child, and how that will affect your relationship with that child later on in life. While you may think you “win” now, ultimately everyone is a loser in the long run.
6. Do Not Expect That You Will “Win” At Trial
No one “wins” at trial. Trials are long and expensive processes where there are multiple issues of custody, parenting time, support, counsel fees and equitable distribution to be decided. There is little or no likelihood that you will win on every issue. In fact, as Family Court is a Court of Equity, the judges try to do what is fair and balanced for both parties. You may think you have a smoking gun that will get you the relief you are seeking, but the judge may view it as irrelevant. Also, there are rules of evidence that may prohibit you from introducing into evidence something that you view as vital to your case. In the end, a trial will cost you tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of letting a person in a robe decide your future and that of your children.
7. Do Not Hand Your Attorney A Mess
One of the best things you can do to prepare for a divorce is to get organized. If you hand your attorney a plastic garbage bag filled with documents, it not only makes it difficult to piece together your financial situation, but it is also very expensive to pay your attorney for the work that must be put in. Prior to meeting with your attorney, try to gather all of your family’s vital financial information, including tax returns, paystubs, mortgages, personal financial statements, life insurance policies, credit cards, bank account statements, retirement account information, etc., so that you can intelligently have a conversation with your attorney. No attorney expects you to know everything when you first meet him or her, but it helps tremendously to have a road map of what the situation is concerning your case.
8. Do Not Equate Your Divorce With What Your Friend Got In His/Her Divorce
Everyone knows someone who has gone through a divorce. It is normal for people to talk about their experiences and the result of their divorce. However, just because you and your friend are both primary parents to two children, and she gets $2,000 per month in child support, does not mean that is what you are entitled to receive. The facts of every case are different. Your friend’s husband could make 10 times what your husband makes; or, your friend’s husband only gets the children every other weekend, as compared to your husband having them 40% of the time. When discussing the goals you want to achieve with your attorney, base it on the facts of your case, not on the limited information you have concerning a friend’s divorce.
9. Do Not Let Family/Friends Make Decisions For You
Family and friends are extremely important in supporting you during a divorce. However, it is still your life, and ultimately you have to make the decisions that will affect you and your children for many years to come. While family/friends have good intentions in most cases, they do not have to live with the consequences of decisions that need to be made in a divorce.
10. Do Not Force Your Attorney To Make Unreasonable Demands
While you may think that asking for $500,000 a year in alimony when realistically you should get $200,000 per year is a great way to negotiate, it isn’t. This strategy will only serve to cause your spouse to take an equally absurd position and push the two of you farther apart from settlement. This will also cause you and your spouse to unnecessarily incur thousands of dollars in counsel fees. Finally, should your case ever reach trial, a judge can consider the good faith or bad faith of settlement negotiations when deciding the issue of counsel fees. So your great strategy of asking for the world could end up meaning you will pay for your spouse’s attorney fees.