Divorce can be overwhelming. You'll be put in unfamiliar situations, and everyone with an opinion will offer advice. It's an emotional rollercoaster, and keeping your emotions under control will be difficult, but in the end staying calm and in control is your best strategy. Remember: It's easy to make lasting and costly mistakes, but it's just as easy to avoid making these errors. This article examines some of the most common mistakes that people make when getting a divorce and how to avoid them.
Don't rush. After finally making the decision to get divorced, it's natural to think, "I just want to get this over with." But making rushed decisions can come back to haunt you. Talk to a lawyer and an accountant before making any moves—they'll be able to advise you on the best legal and financial courses of action. Don't sign any papers without first reading them and understanding the consequences. And don't rush to settle your divorce if it means that you're getting a poor deal.
Don't let your lawyer make decisions for you. Although your lawyer is experienced and has handled many divorces, you will have to live with your divorce-related decisions for the rest of your life. Listen to your lawyer's advice, carefully weigh your options, then decide on an appropriate course of action. Your lawyer cannot and should not be making divorce-related decisions for you.
Don't let your family and friends have too strong of an influence over you. Your family and friends are certain to have opinions about your marriage and your divorce. They'll tell you stories about other people's divorces. They may even tell you how you should be feeling as you go through your divorce. And they may offer legal advice, even if they're not lawyers. What's right for other people isn't necessarily right for you.
Divorce is emotional and stressful, and it's easy to be persuaded by people who think they have your best interests at heart, but no two divorces are identical. Ultimately only you know what's right for you and for your divorce.
Don't let legal discovery run amuck. Discovery is a stage in a lawsuit where lawyers for each party request that the other side turn over documents and information that will help prove each party's case. In a divorce, discovery can include everything from tax returns and financial statements to interviews conducted under oath by the opposing lawyer. You'll pay your lawyer for every hour spent requesting, collecting and reviewing these documents.
Both you and your spouse can save a lot of money on your divorce by cooperating, proactively collecting relevant information, and sharing it with one another and with your attorneys. If you instruct your attorney to fight discovery requests, it will cost both parties in the long run.
Don't divide your assets without first creating an inventory. It's important to know what you have before you can evenly divide it. Your inventory should include details (including a description, year acquired, price paid and current value) on:
- Real estate that you and your spouse own
- Motor vehicles you own or lease
- Personal property, particularly items of significant sentimental or monetary value, but also household items
- Cash accounts such as savings, checking, money market, certificates of deposit and bonds
- Retirement accounts
- Securities accounts such as mutual funds and stocks
- Life insurance policies
- Ownership interest in businesses
- Taxes that are owed or refunds that are due
- Debts, including mortgages, credit card balances, student loans and other loans
Don't ignore your taxes. Before agreeing to a divorce settlement, talk to an accountant, explain your financial situation and thoroughly understand the tax ramification of a potential settlement. Make sure you take into account:
- Will you file a joint return or separate returns for the tax year in which your divorce is finalized?
- Which spouse will claim the children as dependents on their tax return?
- How will alimony and child support payments affect your taxes?
- Will you be taxed on capital gains from the sale of your home?
- Are you eligible for a child care credit?
Don't cave to your spouse's requests and demands in an effort to heal your marriage. Even if you know that divorce is the right decision for you and your spouse, you're bound to have moments of doubt and regret. Don't let these feelings take control of you. Many people try to reconcile with their spouse in the midst of divorce, and it's perfectly acceptable to discuss reconciliation, but don't attempt to win your spouse back by blindly agreeing to unjust requests.
Questions for Your Attorney
What information can I provide that will make discovery go more smoothly?
What can we do to keep divorce costs under control?
How much do you charge for your services?