The stakes are high in a divorce. From divvying up assets to determining child custody arrangements, there's a lot on the line during the legal process -- and a lot of ways to screw it up.
To help you come out of your divorce with the best possible results, we asked experts of every stripe -- divorce attorneys, mediators, divorced people themselves -- to share the most crippling mistakes they've seen couples make during the divorce process and in the early stages of co-parenting. See what they had to say below.
The mistake: Taking legal advice from just anyone.
"Not all divorce advice should be treated equally. People mean well and believe that offering you advice on how to navigate your divorce is a way to support you. But you need to be careful and remember that not all advice is created equal. Your attorney is the best source for advice for legal issues in the same way your accountant is the best source of advice for tax issues. In the same way you'd ask your realtor to tell you the value of your marital residence, your lawyer is the best professional to speculate on how many years of alimony the judge may award you. That's not saying an attorney's advice is beyond question, but if you need a second opinion, direct your concerns to an equally qualified legal expert." -- James Sexton, New York City-based divorce attorney
The mistake: Bad-mouthing the ex in front of the kids.
“Putting down or in any way disrespecting your ex -- regardless how justified or tempting it may be -- creates confusion, guilt, sadness, insecurity and oftentimes depression in kids. When you put down their other parent, your children are likely to interpret it as a put-down of part of them. 'Something’s wrong with me' becomes the child’s unconscious belief. Minding your tongue around your children can be one of the most difficult behaviors to master after a divorce -- but it is also one of the behaviors that will reap the greatest rewards for your family. Don’t let anger, bitterness and indiscriminate remarks effect and harm your children.” -- Rosalind Sedacca, divorce and parenting mentor and the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network
The mistake: Not speaking up.
"While it’s true that surviving a divorce in one piece will change who we are, many of us go through the process making the same mistakes we made in our marriages: We allow fear or guilt to dictate the process. We are not confident enough to voice our own opinions and don't advocate for ourselves. We often want things wrapped up as soon as possible instead of as fairly as possible. Guilt over leaving can make us terrible negotiators. We often have the ridiculous notion that our ex will be a different, kinder or more reasonable person during the negotiation than they were during our marriage. We lose our voice. We give in. We bend. We accept. We hit a breaking point. We allow the short term ugliness to cloud what will be best for us in the long term. Remember: you are human and will make mistakes. But you are enough and deserve to start the next chapter of your life off right." -- Jessica Kahan, writer at Living Life Loudly
The mistake: Failing to plan for life after the divorce.
"I get it: Divorce can be stressful, money is tight and it can be difficult to think beyond the present. But if you're going through a divorce you need to consider critical financial decisions around important issues (keeping or selling the home, taking investment assets over retirement assets, receiving alimony and child support, getting life insurance). The best way to keep a level head around your finances and demystify the numbers is to work them out on paper alongside a financial advisor who can help you create a financial plan. A financial plan will help provide clarity and guidance around your financial goals with respect to your assets, liabilities, income, and expenses. Once you understand the numbers, you can create an affordable, sustainable budget to manage your money with your future in mind." -- Gabrielle Clemens, certified divorce financial analyst
The mistake: Keeping the kids in the dark.
"Growing up, I wasn't stressed by my parents' oversharing details of their pain and anger. Instead, I suffered from the opposite problem: I didn't get enough information. I think my mom and dad wanted their children to believe they were being taken care of and had nothing to worry about. But I worried. I worried about their feelings. I wondered how the separation would impact my day-to-day life. I worried that my needs were a burden and as a result I stayed out of trouble and earned excellent grades in school. That, of course, reinforced my parents' belief that I was fine. But there's danger in assuming all is well simply because children don't exhibit problems.
To avoid the problem, schedule family meetings to talk about the separation. Involve both parents, if possible. Address in detail any changes that will affect the children and provide a safe space for everyone in the family to listen and share." -- Tara Eisenhard, mediator and author of The D-Word: Divorce Through a Child’s Eyes
The mistake: Rushing into a rebound relationship.
"Don't get me wrong, after a relationship ends I'm a big believer in grabbing a friend, putting on your favorite outfit and a big smile and going out somewhere fun and social. It is healthy to have some laughs and enjoy some innocent flirting to prove that you've still got it! But don't let your positive emotions for the moment go beyond that. Just because a woman or man satisfies a need that had long gone unmet by your spouse doesn't mean he or she is right for you. Your world has been shaken up by the divorce and you aren't thinking as clearly about your love life as you soon will be. This is your time to heal and take stock of your life. Keep your focus on becoming the best person you can be and you'll emerge a healthier, happier and more attractive you." -- Tracey Steinberg, dating coach and author of Flirt for Fun And Meet The One: Dating Secrets From The Dateologist
The mistake: Failing to anticipate how long the divorce process will last.
"My divorce (and ensuing child custody battle) lasted more than three years, spanned three states and cost every penny I had -- and a lot of pennies I didn’t have. While I suspect most divorces aren’t so contentious, the biggest mistake I see many people make is thinking it will be a relatively smooth and amicable process.
I recall talking to a guy I met at a restaurant during a brief lull in the acrimony in my divorce. He asked how far into the divorce process I was and I said three or four months. He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You’re just at the beginning.’ I shuddered, hoping he was wrong, but he then gave me a genuinely useful piece of advice. ‘No matter what happens,' he said. 'Take the high road.’ I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, but two years later, I understood. And I tried, usually successfully, to take the high road. I recommend you do the same.” -- Joe Seldner, TV producer, writer
The mistake: Not considering an alternative to litigation.
"I’ve seen even the angriest couples successfully mediate their divorce – but many couples don’t even consider it as an option. Mediation is essentially a non-adversarial process where couples meet together for several sessions with a neutral mediator to work out the terms of their divorce. As a lawyer experienced in litigation, I now only mediate because I believe the process is fairer, cheaper and quicker. And your best assets -- your kids -- are protected. When you mediate, your children see you cooperating. And you, not a judge, decide your custody arrangement." -- Joanne Naiman, New York City-based certified divorce mediator
The mistake: Letting your emotions get the best of you.
"As a divorce coach, I have seen people get into emotional arguments with their exes over and over again. The emotional argument can be about anything: an asset that needs to be divided, a bill that needs to be paid, a change in the custody schedule, a request for documents. Then, clients will admit to me that the outcome or result of the issue is really not that big of a deal to them -- they just refuse to give in to their soon-to-be ex-partner's demands. It becomes more about the emotional process of divorce instead of the legal process. The emotional argument causes people to stay stuck in their story of pain and anger." -- Susie Duffy, marriage and family therapist and divorce coach
The mistake: Refusing to co-parent.
"Divorce changes your marital status but not your parenting status. Being parents together goes on till death do you part in the eyes of your children. During and after the divorce process, parents put considerable thought and energy into their relationship with with their children and little thought into their evolving relationship with the other parent. In the worst case scenario, they cut each other off and expect the children to manage their parents’ relationship. Then the kids have to be careful about saying anything too positive to one parent about the other and feel disloyal if they report anything stressful that happened at one house.
Here’s a concrete way to take another path: be a consciously supportive co-parent by expressing appreciation for everything your ex does for your kids -- both in front of your ex and to your children. The trick really is to see your ex-spouse through the eyes of your children." -- William J. Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project
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