"Divorce is the psychological equivalent of a triple coronary bypass," said author Mary Kay Blakely. She's right. Not only is divorce painful, it can also be incredibly complicated.
And what that means is that it's a breeding ground for mistakes. So many terrible, long-lasting, devastating, regrettable mistakes are made because we're on an emotional roller coaster, or because the legal process is messy, or both.
"It's what I call the 'divorce paradox,'" says divorce lawyer Rebecca Zung, author of Breaking Free: A Step-By-Step Divorce Guide to Emotional, Physical and Spiritual Freedom. "In the worst emotional trauma, you have to make the most critical decisions of your life."
Wondering about all the ways women can go wrong when their marriages end? We've got the scoop on the biggest divorce secrets and fails by someone who's seen it all.
1. A limited understanding of the family's finances. Sometimes a husband will create a mountain of debt without telling his wife. Or, he'll amass more assets than she's aware of. Either way, the divorce will take longer if the wife isn't in the loop. "If you think your'e going to file for divorce," Zung advises, "first take a couple of months to be a sleuth. Open up those letters from the bank and find out what's really going on."
2. Not having enough money to get started. If you've been financially dependent on your husband, you can request what's called "temporary maintenance" to cover your expenses until your divorce is finalized. But you'll still need some cash for the initial legal fees and for your own day-to-day expenses before the court awards that maintenance. You need money to put a lawyer on retainer. Zung says that amount can vary widely, anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 depending on your circumstances.
3. Neglecting to use a lawyer. "A husband who wants to control the whole process might tell his wife, 'Let's just meet at Starbucks and work this out between the two of us.' Or, 'Who do you trust more?'" Zung cautions. "Then he'll try to get her to settle for far less than she's entitled to. And when I later tell her that no, you're entitled to more than that, he gets angry and that makes it harder to negotiate down the road, even in mediation."
It's fine to settle issues like pickup times for the kids between the two of you. But if your husband wants to discuss details in your divorce case, Zung urges women to firmly say, "Please speak with my lawyer about that."
4. Reacting emotionally. "This is the biggest one," Zung says. "Some women give in because they're emotionally exhausted, or they don't want people judging them. But they'll usually regret giving in too soon." On the other hand, some women cause a divorce to drag on because of their thirst for revenge. Zung says those clients tell her, "'I don't care how long it takes or how much it costs, I just want to make him suffer.' But then the wives suffer, too.'"
It's not just the women, though. Zung saw one husband get so angry he punched a hole into a wall during a meeting. She's also seen people storm out of proceedings. "Sometimes emotions are running so high, we can't even start off in the same room." This is counterproductive. "The best way to get a good resolution is for everyone to remain calm."
5. Confusing divorce justice with divorce law. "These are not the same thing," Zung says. Some women will tell her that they want half of their husband's salary plus the house, for example. "It's what they want," she says. "But the law may not support that. She's confusing what she thinks is just with reality." For example, you might think there would be a financial penalty for adultery. But no -- in most states cheating has little impact on the distribution of assets.
6. Taking her husband's reaction to the divorce personally. "Once a man accepts the fact that the divorce happens," Zung explains, "it often becomes a like business deal to him." This means he'll come in with a certain cold, calculating emotional distance. Women can get caught up in feeling hurt over this, wondering things like, how does he not see everything I've done for him? "This gives the husband the edge in negotiation," Zung says. "If you're feeling hurt, you're dealing from a weaker position."
7. Settling too soon, and for too little money. Zung says she sometimes has a client sign a letter saying that she's "explained to her how much she's entitled to, and that she acknowledges that she is giving this up anyway. Most of the women who sign it come to regret settling."
Why take less than you're entitled to? Some women feel guilty taking what they have every right to under the law. Others just want to get it all over with as quickly as possible.
Zung has seen some women give up millions. One client's husband's estate was estimated to be worth $25 million. But she walked away with just $5 million, child support, and a condo worth about $500,000. "He was harassing her. I got so many crying phone calls from her, and she just couldn't take it anymore," Zung says. So she decided $5 million was plenty so she could end the drama.
You may have noticed a common theme running through these mistakes: Your emotional state can affect your finances and your divorce. It's clear that women need a certain amount of resilience, self-awareness, and a firm grip on reality to navigate splitting from their husbands. Get the help you need, whether that's through therapy or a support group.
Have you made mistakes in your divorce that you regret?
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