Going through a divorce is like going to an amusement park, just not as fun. Or, if you're like me and don't like amusement parks, then this will hit home. I always tell clients to think of their divorce like a roller coaster; you'll have your shares of ups and downs. Don't get too high when things go well and don't get too low when things don't go your way.
While no two divorces are the same, there are common themes many cases have that can serve as an example for those who follow. Here are the top three mistakes I see people making in their divorces...and some suggestions on alternative responses.
1. Engaging in mudslinging. If you're lucky, your divorce will be amicable and smooth sailing. If you're like many divorces, you're embroiled in a high conflict situation that drags on for months, or years and is using up all the marital assets you worked so hard to accumulate.
Remember...it takes two to tango! If you are dealing with a difficult (and I use that word lightly) spouse who seems only interested in fighting and creating conflict, you have to work hard not to respond in kind.
I know...it's HARD!
But, it will do nothing to move the divorce forward and it will only create more angst and emotional distress for you to deal with. You need to be at your best. Remember, your spouse knows you very well and knows how to push your buttons. The reason he/she keeps doing the things they do to you is because you react...every time. They know this, expect this and get some sick pleasure out of this action/reaction behavior.
Better Alternative. Practice...and it takes practice not reacting to his/her harassing conduct. Take a breath before responding and think about how your response will contribute to the next action. Practice realizing the "game" that is being played and teach yourself to react differently. It is possible to learn different behaviors, but you have to want to do it. This goes for other poor behavior too...such as missing parenting time with the children, not taking care of household responsibilities, etc.
Keep a log of all the harassing things your spouse does to you. Don't tell him/her you're doing this...just do it. You might be able to use it as evidence if you end up in a court hearing and need to prove the harassment, or poor conduct.
2. Not being reasonable in negotiations. A divorce requires negotiation. Before you get to trial, there are many opportunities to discuss settlement and enter negotiations. If you have an attorney, he/she will handle the negotiations for you, but you have the ultimate decision on whether to accept or deny any offer. If you are negotiating yourself, then you should know what your bottom line is on every issue before you begin actually negotiating. This will help you guide on where to start and how to manage the discussions.
Remember what a negotiation is...a compromise. If a negotiation is successful, you don't get everything you want and your spouse doesn't get everything he/she wants. Choose the issue(s) that is most important to you and focus on that. Give in on the others in order to get what is most important to you.
The biggest mistake you can make is not being reasonable and getting caught up in the sludge of the negotiation process. For example, if you know your spouse's most important issue is his/her retirement account, don't fight him just to piss him off. If that account is not the most important issue for you, negotiate to get what you really want.
Better Alternative. Make a list of all the issues that are on the table to be negotiated. Rank them in importance to you. If you know your spouse well, you can even rank his so you have something to go by during the process. Don't be afraid to give away what you don't really want or care about. Focus and stand firm on the one or two biggest items and use the rest as leverage to negotiate. This will make your spouse feel as though he got more than you and thus "won." Remember, there is generally more than one way to resolve the distribution of assets or money issues. Be creative and open to alternatives that will get you where you want to be in the end.
3. Hiring the wrong lawyer to represent you. There are a lot of lawyers out there, but not all are created equal. Some do a bit of everything (wills, litigation, criminal) while other specialize in a field, such as family law. It is extremely important to choose the right lawyer from the beginning. This means going on at least a couple consultations and asking the right questions to see if it will be the right fit. Not only do you want your lawyer to be qualified, but you want to make sure you get along and have the same approach to your case.
For example, if you want to try and amicably resolve the divorce, quickly and cheaply, then hiring a wolf litigator might not be the way to go.
Better Alternative. Choosing a lawyer is like going shopping for anything else in life. Comparison shop, do your research and don't just buy the first thing that comes along. Make sure to be clear in how you would like to approach the divorce and see if the lawyer agrees and if not, why not and do you agree with that reasoning. If you and your lawyer are not on the same page from day one, you will quickly get frustrated and upset with the way your case proceeds and how much you are paying.
Bring a list of questions to the consultation so you don't have to try and remember them. Lay it all out there because this is your interview and chance to evaluate the person who will represent you in court and in negotiations. If you can't find a lawyer yourself, ask friends and family for recommendations (we all know someone who has been through a divorce) or call your state bar association for referrals.
Jason Levoy, a/k/a The Divorce Resource Guy, is an attorney who teaches people without a lawyer how to navigate the divorce process and represent themselves in court. He regularly provides free advice via his blog, VIP newsletter and Private Divorce Facebook Group