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Lessons From a Divorce Lawyer: The 10 Most Common Mistakes People Make During Divorce


Divorce can be emotionally, physically, and financially draining, which can lead to poor decision-making. As a former family lawyer, I have seen clients at their lowest of lows as they experience a wide range of emotions, sometimes making emotionally charged decisions either in an attempt to swiftly conclude their divorce or unnecessarily prolong the litigation in hopes of “winning.”  The following are the most common mistakes I have seen people make during the divorce process:  

  1. Choosing the wrong lawyer

You need to find a lawyer that you not only trust, but respect and someone who understands your needs and desires. Remember that you will be telling this person intimate details of your marriage, so if you walk into a consultation with a lawyer and feel uncomfortable with the person or the strategy proposed, he or she is not right for you. For instance, if you want to keep your matter out of court, a lawyer whose main objective is to get you into court and through a trial, is not the right lawyer for you. Instead, look for a lawyer who has a background in mediation or collaborative law or someone known as a solid negotiator. Conversely, if your spouse has made it clear that court is inevitable, do not choose a lawyer who only works in the collaborative process or mediation.  

  1. Pushing forward with unnecessary litigation

The vast majority of divorce cases never reach trial and of those that do, only a small fraction of them actually make it through the conclusion of a trial. The reason is simple – protracted litigation is expensive, time consuming, public, and often leaves both parties unhappy with the outcome. While it is common to want to feel vindicated in your divorce, very few people ever feel that they have truly won at the end of a divorce and even if finances are not a concern, few people are happy to spend multiple millions on a divorce. This is not to say that court intervention and a potential trial is entirely avoidable. If you and your spouse reach an impasse and no amount of negotiation or mediation can solve it, then you will need to litigate and unfortunately leave the decision in a court’s hands.  

  1. Using your lawyer as a therapist

While your lawyer will become your most trusted confidant during the divorce process, your lawyer should not be used as your therapist or friend to whom you vent each day. Lawyers commonly charge in the 6-minute increment and using you lawyer to vent is not only cost prohibitive but may lead you to veer away from the actual issues of your case. Also, your lawyer is not your mental health professional – you may need a therapist to help you through the divorce process, but that is not your lawyer.

  1. Using children as weapons

In the heat of a divorce, parents may lose sight of the end goal – ending the marriage and coming to a resolution that is right for the family. At this point, some either purposely or inadvertently utilize their children as weapons in the divorce by threatening to withhold a child or having a child deliver messages to the other parent. This behavior is not good for anyone, least of all, your child. You are the adult and a divorce is an adult matter, so leave them out of it and enable them to have a relationship with both parents and not get caught in the crossfire.  

  1. Failing to stay organized

A divorce will touch on every aspect of your life; from your personal finances to your business interests, to your estate documents, your lawyer will need voluminous document production and will request updated documents regularly. Therefore, remain organized so that you are not sending the same document multiple times or coming into the office with a pile of receipts without any explanation. If your lawyer has to constantly re-review your documents and follow up with you to request missing documents or understand the documents you provided, this will create unnecessary fees and inefficiencies in your case.  

  1. Letting your spouse’s attorney antagonize you

Your spouse knows what buttons to press to upset you, so expect that he or she has shared this information with their lawyer for use in negotiations, court appearances, or court filings for the sole purpose of provoking you. This tactic can lead to protracted litigation, stalled negotiations, and overall inefficiencies. Recognize that the purpose of this is to antagonize you and let it pass; this is not important in the grand scheme of your divorce or life. Letting go of that anger will allow you to move forward in this process.  

  1. Using social media

Whatever you put on social media is never truly private. Refrain from posting updates or discussing your divorce, posting photos that may insight your ex, or any divorce documents. It may feel good to post these things but remember that whatever you post may impact your case, whether you recognize it or not. If you do not want a court to see it, do not post it online.

  1. Failing to change passwords

Do you use the same password for everything, a variation of the same password, or passwords known by your spouse? Be sure to immediately change all passwords including those for your email, bank accounts, iCloud, devices, etc. as soon as your marriage begins to breakdown.  

  1. Entering into a settlement that you cannot afford or does not comport with your lifestyle

As much as you may want to avoid protracted negotiations or even litigation, entering into an agreement that you cannot live with, is not beneficial to anyone. For a parenting agreement, it is important that a parent ensures that the parenting schedule works with a parent’s lifestyle. For example, if you often travel for work during the workweek, you may not want to agree to a schedule that provides for several parenting days when you are usually traveling. As it relates to the financial agreement, it is important that one not agree to unrealistic financial terms. For instance, you should not agree to pay support that you cannot afford to pay or fight to keep a home where you cannot afford the cost of its utilities and upkeep.

  1. Failing to update estate planning documents

It can be attractive to avoid dealing with other legal aspects of your life while going through the divorce process. Estate documents often fall to the wayside given the intensity of a divorce, but the terms of your estate documents can have tremendous ramifications on both your life and the lives of your family. It is therefore important to at the very least, revise one’s powers of attorney, health care proxies, and life insurance beneficiaries during the pendency of a divorce and execute an updated Will following divorce.  


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