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10 Legal Mistakes People Make During Divorce (And How Not To Make Them!)

You don't have to make the same mistakes that so many other people make.
07/20/2015 11:43am ET | Updated July 20, 2016
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What' s the worst mistake you ever made? For a lot of people, the answer to that question involves their divorce. They settled for too little. They fought for too long. They didn't understand how their actions would end up affecting their children. They didn't realize that the legal mistakes they made during their divorce could haunt them for years, and sometimes for decades, afterwards.

The good news is, you don't have to make the same mistakes that so many other people make. With a little bit of knowledge, and a fair amount of self-discipline and emotional strength (and, yes, you really are much stronger than you think, even when you are going through hell!) you can avoid the top 10 legal mistakes people make during divorce.

1. Choosing the wrong divorce process: This is the 21st century, and, thank heavens, you don't have to go through your divorce the same way that your parents did! You have choices about what type of divorce process you use. You can use mediation, negotiation, or collaborative law. If you have to, you can always still fight in court. What's important is that, before you start your divorce, you take the time to learn about your choices, and then choose the divorce process that will work best for you.

2. Choosing the wrong divorce lawyer: They say that when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Go to a shark divorce attorney, and don't be surprised if you end up with blood on your shirt. Hire a soft-spoken negotiator when your spouse is a certified crazy person determined to fight to the death, and at the end of your case you are going to wonder if anyone got the license number of the truck that hit you.

You have to know who you are, who your spouse is, and what kind of divorce process is likely to work best for you. Then you have to hire a lawyer who is an expert in that kind of divorce process. (This is also not the time to hire that "friend of the family" who specializes in real estate closings. Even if you think your case is simple, you need to find a divorce attorney who is an expert in family law.)

3. Starting off your case with a bang: If you start your divorce case by immediately going on the attack, you are going to create World War III from day one. Your spouse is going to respond by "lawyering up," and attacking you back. Before you know it, you will burn through thousands of dollars, you will totally hate your spouse, and your life will be filled with drama. So, before you open the floodgates of anger, you might want to think twice about the tsunami that will come afterwards.

4. Not taking the time to get full financial information: Can you settle your case without knowing how much money you and your spouse have, what you owe, and how much each of you really earns? Yes. Should you? No. You can't divide something fairly if you don't know what exists. You can't figure out whether you will be able to support yourself after your divorce unless you know how much money you are going to have coming in, and how much will be going out. You have to take the time to figure out and really understand your finances before you can fairly resolve your case.

5. Fighting for custody without understanding what that means: Legal child custody is the right to make certain major life decisions for your child. Residential custody is where your child lives most of the time. Visitation, or parenting time, is the time you spend with your child.

If you and your spouse can not get along at all, and can not communicate at all, sharing joint custody of your child is probably going to be a nightmare. In that case, maybe fighting for sole custody makes sense. But if you can at least work most things out for the benefit of your kids, then waging a gigantic custody battle will only cost you a fortune, take forever, and put your kids through hell.

6. Focusing on the battles and forgetting about the war: When you are angry at your spouse, you want to fight about everything. But if pay your lawyer $5,000 in attorney's fees to get an extra $50 per month in child support, is it worth it? If your child is 2 years old, yes. If your child is 17, no! You have to keep the big picture in mind all the time. You have to know what really matters, and focus on getting that. Otherwise, you may end up not getting what you really want, and ending up with a gigantic legal bill to boot.

7. Forgetting that social media is a public forum: You have absolutely no idea how many divorce cases have been lost because of Facebook posts! When you are going through a divorce, stop using social media. As they say on TV, everything you say (post) can and will be used against you. It doesn't matter if you delete what you posted. Once something goes out into cyberspace, it lives there forever!

8. Thinking divorce is a sprint when it is really a marathon: Anyone who says divorce is fast and easy is either lying to you or seriously delusional. Unless you and your spouse were able to work out all of your issues yourselves, your divorce is almost guaranteed to take longer and cost more than you think. If you get yourself into an emotional twist from the get-go, you are not going to maintain your sanity until the end of your divorce.

What to do? Get a therapist. Join a support group. Exercise. Start working on stress reduction plan as soon you can. At the end of your divorce, you will be glad you did.

9. Not understanding the tax implications of your settlement: You don't have to be as rich as Michael Jordan to suffer tax consequences from your divorce. Dividing up investments can have tax consequences. Selling property can have tax consequences. Paying or receiving spousal support has tax consequences. If you settle your case without understanding what you are going to have to pay in taxes later you may discover that you are really getting way less than you thought.

10. Signing documents without reading and/or understanding them: Signing any document without reading it is foolish. Signing your divorce papers without reading them is insane. It doesn't matter if your attorney wrote them. You have to read them, and probably even more than once. If you don't understand what something in the documents means, ask! It is your lawyer's job to explain the documents to you. If you don't understand what you're signing, then don't sign.

For more divorce advice and information from Karen Covy go to http://karencovy.com

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