If you are getting divorced or considering divorce in California – or if you are anticipating that your partner will be seeking a divorce – you should know about the mistakes that people too frequently make during the divorce process.
The process of getting divorced involves many potential challenges. Divorce is a big decision that will change the course of your life. There are many divorcing spouses who are able to work together and reach a peaceful resolution relatively quickly. But even if you and your spouse are on good terms about your separation and divorce, there are many others facing challenging legal and financial issues, contentious disputes, and difficult questions that can impact the rest of their lives.
Common Divorce Mistakes and How to Avoid Making Them
Even under the best of circumstances, divorce is not an easy process. If you proceed with caution, you can avoid some of the common divorce mistakes that can waste time, increase stress, and cost a lot of money.
Preparing yourself to avoid common mistakes is a critical part of the divorce planning process, no matter how good, bad, or ugly your relationship with your spouse is. From making rash decisions in the heat of the moment to making decisions with incomplete information, the risk for these mistakes exists at all stages of the divorce process, and they can impact all of the major aspects of your divorce, and your life.
If you are getting divorced or considering divorce in California, here are ten common divorce mistakes to avoid:
Mistake #1: Rushing the Process to Get it Over With and Save Money
The divorce process is not a time in anyone’s life they think back to with longing and nostalgia. Everyone involved is eager to get this process over with and end their marriage, often leading spouses to enter into marital settlement agreements without careful consideration. Consequently, many spouses wind up with divorce judgments they are not at peace with and regret their hasty decisions down the road.
Take your time to work out a mutually beneficial settlement. Divorce takes negotiation, which takes time. Go into your divorce knowing that this is a process and not something that happens overnight. Carefully review the terms of your stipulation with your family law attorney to ensure that everything is covered and that you understand everything you are agreeing to. Once finalized, there are some details you will never be able to change.
You might find yourself tempted by ads that offer a quick, easy, low-cost divorce. Remember, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” The divorce process is meant to be handled right the first time. You would be better off sitting down with an experienced divorce attorney who can explain the issues at hand. They can go over your case and be honest about how difficult your divorce might be. To ensure the best outcome, a complicated divorce matter should be handled correctly from the beginning and that typically means with the assistance of an attorney.
Similarly, skipping the discovery process may sound like an easy way to keep costs low in your divorce. Beware, if you skip important steps it could end up costing you more in the long run. Discovery is necessary because you need to make sure that you have all of the information as you make important decisions about the financial aspects of your divorce.
Discovery and a little hard work can help you get a favorable decision regarding the distribution of assets and debts and allows you to request certain documents that might be relevant to your divorce. Skipping this step to save money or speed up the process could lead to regrets down the road. You risk missing something critical that could have been identified in the discovery process.
Finally, in your rush to get the divorce over, don’t forget to change beneficiaries, wills, and trusts. A divorce does not automatically change where your spouse may be listed in your will or as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy.
This oft-forgotten step in divorce has led to some unpleasant and permanent surprises for children and subsequent spouses of divorcees upon their death. Be sure to review the types of accounts and documents that will need to be changed to remove your ex-spouse from your estate with your trust and estate lawyer. Then you can face the future, confident that your family is financially and emotionally secure.
Mistake #2: Letting Emotions Dictate Legal Decisions and Being Emotionally Attached to Assets in Divorce Negotiations
All too often, couples going through a divorce will make important life and legal decisions based on emotions rather than good sense. Strong emotions are normal during a divorce, but giving in to your emotions can cause you to fight for things you don’t really want or need in your divorce.
It can be hard to detach yourself emotionally from all that is occurring and really see your divorce for what it is. While family and friends can be supportive, their closeness to you may prevent objective input. Feel free to talk with a licensed counselor about how your separation and divorce is affecting you.
In the courtroom and throughout divorce negotiations, intense feelings can derail rational thinking. That’s when you have to be precise, rational, and fully in control.
The marital residence, the pension you earned, the family pet, a painting purchased during your marriage – these assets can bring an emotionally charged debate to divorce negotiations, which can impair good decision-making. For example, divorcing spouses may be attached to the family home and refuse to sell it. Though they cannot afford the home, they fight tooth and nail to keep it, sometimes at the expense of retirement planning and their own emotional well-being.
Additionally, a home is generally a major cash expense, with mortgage payments, property taxes, repairs, and utilities. Let go of any emotional attachments you may have. During your divorce and settlement negotiations, your main focus should always be on how to maximize your finances by making sure you will have enough liquid assets for living expenses after your divorce and in retirement.
While it’s hard to release emotional ties to assets, remember you’ll be financially responsible for them after divorcing.
Mistake #3: Having Unrealistic Expectations and Goals
To produce an equitable agreement, couples must modify their expectations. If you butt heads on each issue and refuse to compromise, you will end up in court. The purpose of negotiations is to reach a middle ground that works for both spouses. Try to be reasonable and practical when discussing settlement terms.
Most divorces require some give and take, which means you probably won’t get the house, all the cars, and full custody of the children just because you want it. And no lawyer can legitimately promise you all of this.
What your lawyer can do is work hard to ensure you understand your case and create a strategy that will give you a chance at getting at least some of your requests fulfilled.
Divorce inherently means you will have less than you did during the marriage. Expecting to have all of the marital assets, no debt, and a minimal bill from your attorney is probably unrealistic. Going through each of the issues in your divorce and deciding which ones are worth the time, energy, and expense of litigation is the best way to utilize your resources and save money on your divorce.
Mistake #4: Taking Legal Advice From People Other Than Your Attorney
When getting divorced, you may have friends or family who might have already gone through a divorce and might want to offer you legal advice, but they won’t necessarily know what is best for you. Stop listening to friends or family tell you what will happen because they do not have the knowledge or experience that a divorce attorney has.
The advice attorneys give varies from case to case and depends on the specific facts of each situation, so it’s important not to take any legal advice from anyone other than your attorney who is committed to your case. Divorces are complicated matters which concern the division of financial assets and your future, therefore, only qualified and competent legal professionals will be able to effectively advise you regarding your rights and responsibilities during the divorce process.
While friends and family are a great source for emotional support, they are not legal professionals.
Mistake #5: Failing to Identify Your Separate Property
A common mistake many people make in a divorce is failing to identify separate assets when they are going through the divorce process. California is a community property state; and, among other things, this means that while most of the assets you and your spouse acquired during your marriage are subject to distribution in your divorce, most of the assets you acquired before your marriage are not.
In other words, they are considered separate assets that are yours to keep, and failing to identify separate assets is one of the common divorce mistakes.
Mistake #6: Failing to Understand Your Finances and Post-Separation Budget
One indisputable fact of divorce is that two households cost more to operate than one. Many divorcing spouses fail to realize that their divorce settlement must last a significant amount of time: perhaps even the rest of their lives.
How much is your retirement account worth for purposes of your divorce? What about your business? What about other assets such as vacation homes, collections, jewelry, boats, and antique vehicles? If you don’t know the true value of these assets, you will simply be guessing as to what constitutes an equitable distribution in your divorce. It is also important to understand the value of these assets so that you can develop a financial plan and budget moving forward following your divorce.
Financial planning can help people transition from a married to single lifestyle by prioritizing financial goals, developing realistic expectations, and producing sound plans for the assignment and division of financial resources.
Having a solid understanding of your present financial situation and a reasonable outlook and goals for your future is the best way to avoid divorce mistakes now and to be prepared should your circumstances change after your divorce.
Mistake #7: Assuming that Key Issues Will Resolve Themselves
You will play a central role in determining the outcome of your divorce. Going through a divorce is not a passive process, and issues do not simply resolve themselves if you delay long enough. You need to make informed decisions with your long-term best interests in mind, and you need to ensure that you are not unknowingly giving up too much in your divorce.
Delaying the necessary steps you need to take as part of the divorce process can make the situation even harder and more stressful.
Mistake #8: Hiding Assets, Information, or Documentation
Under California law, during the divorce process, marital property is to be divided “equitably.” That sounds easy enough, but if the assets are substantial and the divorcing spouses are contentious, determining who gets what can quickly become exceedingly difficult. Each spouse must be forthright and honest about the finances. It’s imperative.
If you are going through a divorce you must provide complete and accurate financial disclosures to the other party. Failing to do so can result in significant court costs and cost you more in the long run.
Mistake #9: Posting and Talking About Sensitive Information Online
It is natural to want to vent to friends and family members about your divorce. It is a tough process that is often emotionally draining.
If you can, however, resist the urge to post your thoughts, feelings, and experiences online. Posting things about your divorce or your life in general online makes it part of public record. No matter how you configure the privacy settings on your social media accounts, an attorney or private investigator will be able to access the information you post.
You may want – or need – to refrain from using social media until your divorce is finalized. Anything that you post online could be distorted, and everything that you post will be scrutinized. Even things that do not seem directly related to your divorce, such as posting pictures of the big new TV you purchased, could end up as evidence during your divorce case. In this example, your ex-spouse could use this as proof that you have the money to pay for child support or alimony.
If you have already aired grievances, you may want to consider locking down your privacy settings or temporarily deactivating some social media accounts. If you and your spouse decide to announce your divorce, discuss when to do it. A joint decision prevents unpleasant surprises.
Additionally, ask family and friends to refrain from posting anything that casts your family in a poor light.
To protect yourself, don’t post anything before or during your divorce that you don’t want the judge to see. The best way to protect yourself during a divorce case is to take a break from social media entirely until your divorce is finalized.
Mistake #10: Not Talking to a Divorce Attorney About Your Case
The risk for these mistakes exists at all stages of the divorce process, and they can impact all of the major aspects of your divorce. The most important thing to know about divorce in California is that you must have the advice and representation of a divorce attorney from the very beginning of the divorce process.
No divorce is easy, but a qualified divorce lawyer can help you avoid the divorce mistakes discussed here. After reviewing the details of your case, your attorney will be able to provide you with the precise and personalized advice and recommendations you’ll need.
Before you even file for divorce in California, you should have a well thought out strategy. The first step is to meet with an experienced family law attorney. An attorney will explain the law and clarify your rights and responsibilities so that you can avoid these common divorce mistakes.
California’s divorce procedures are complex and trying to navigate them without help of a skilled family lawyer can be frustrating. If you have questions about divorce, contact us by calling (844) 4-TALKOV (825568) or contact us online for a free consultation with our experienced family law attorney, Colleen Talkov, who can guide you through the court process in a prompt and clear manner.