If you are like most people, the concept of divorce is downright scary. You have questions like: Where will I live? When will I see my kids? Will I have to divide my pension?
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. This is perfectly normal. Trauma research tells us that divorce is usually one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life. The world can feel as if it has spun-off its axis. Uncertainty seems to lurk around every corner.
I developed the tips below based on my experience practicing family law. Take time to think about the issues they raise. If you do, I'm confident they can help you avoid some of the most common mistakes.
Mistake #1: Not Identifying Case Goals.
A common mistake I see is people not thinking critically about case goals. Identifying and documenting case goals is the single most important step you can take to ensure a successful outcome in your case. It’s the reason I work with clients to create a Divorce Plan.
Don’t assume your lawyer will do this for you. Some do. Others don't. Hiring a lawyer is like hiring an expensive trail guide – we know many different routes to go many different places, but unless you tell us where you want to go, we can’t get you there.
Identifying goals means prioritizing outcomes. What do you really need from your divorce? You can’t have everything. What are you willing to give up to in order to get it? Be realistic. Don’t waste time or energy asking for everything.
Mistake #2: Hiring the Wrong Kind of Lawyer.
Arguably the most expense divorce mistake is hiring the wrong kind of lawyer. Not only can the wrong kind of lawyer take you down the wrong path, but they can suggest paths that are really not open to you, causing significant heartache and emotional distress.
In my opinion, there are two types of lawyers who handle divorce cases.
Generalists are lawyers who handle a wide variety of cases. They may handle criminal cases, real estate cases, and draft your will, in addition to handling your divorce. Having a general practice allows the attorney to keep things fresh and new. Their practice doesn’t get boring. They may also have a better understanding of other areas of law, which could be important if are involved in other lawsuits.
Specialists are lawyers who focus or limit their practice to a particular subject area. For example, they may only handle divorce cases, criminal trials, or estate planning needs. Their value is based on their experience in the subject area. They may charge higher fees. And they are less likely to offer general legal assistance.
You should think carefully about the type of lawyer you decide to hire.
Mistake #3: Ignoring the Emotional Train Wreck.
Hard truth: Divorce is emotionally devastating. It doesn’t matter where you live, how much you earn, or how long you’ve been married. Divorce sucks.
“Okay . . . Enough mumbo jumbo," you say. "Divorce is hard for some people, but not me.” Wrong. The most difficult people I represent are those who claim divorce isn't an emotional roller coaster. Find a good therapist or counselor you can talk to. Some clients need to be dragged to one kicking and screaming. It's okay. Nearly all are glad they went.
Mistake #4: Portraying the Wrong Image.
Don’t assume Divorce Court is like real life. It’s not. The Judge won’t know you. And he/she won’t hear your life’s story. You only have a small window of time (think TV news sound bite) to hit the high notes. Don't blow it by wandering off message. Assume your spouse will tell the Judge all the bad things you've done. Don’t give them more ammo by dropping your spouse from your health insurance policy in the middle of your case. Seen it happen.
Mistake #5: Not Putting the Kids First.
Children are not miniature adults. They have different cognitive and emotional needs. Until they hit their mid-teenage years, most kids don’t have the cognitive ability to understand the concept of divorce. What they understand is physical separation. If possible, work with your spouse to explain to the children (in a neutral, nonjudgmental way) what is happening. Research shows that nearly one quarter (25%) of all children receive no explanation for why a parent suddenly moves out of the house.