It may be easier said than done, but the key to avoiding costly mistakes when getting a divorce is to try to approach things rationally. If you need to talk about the emotional aspects of your divorce, then consider leaning on a friend or hiring a therapist. But when it comes to dealing with the financial implications of a divorce, it’s important to put any strong feelings to the side and avoid these 10 mistakes.
1. Underestimating your future expenses
The average divorce takes 12 months to complete, according to leading online divorce service Nolo.com. However, the financial consequences of a divorce can last decades or even a lifetime, especially if there are important assets or young children involved. Therefore, it is crucial to make a proper, inflation-adjusted estimate of your future expenses, taking into account even far-off costs like college tuition. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools out there that can help you plan your future expenses. If things get complicated, you may want to hire a professional financial planner.
2. Forgetting to account for taxes
It’s common for people going through a divorce to forget about the IRS, but rest assured the IRS will not forget about you. After a divorce, virtually everything about your tax situation changes—from filing as single instead of married to falling into a different tax bracket to claiming dependents and more. If you “win” a divorce settlement, you may end up being hit with taxes on things you hadn’t properly considered, like taxes on the properties you now own outright. Again, a financial planner or accountant can help you calculate your future tax burden under various divorce scenarios.
3. Not considering mediation
An uncontested divorce where you and your spouse agree on all the important details is always preferable to a contested divorce. Understandably, an uncontested divorce isn’t always possible. If you’re unable to come to an agreement with your spouse, then consider mediation (also known as alternative dispute resolution). Mediators cost money, but not nearly as much as a trial—and you may be surprised how much closer mediation brings you to an amicable agreement.
4. Being emotionally attached to worthless possessions
When emotion is a factor, people tend to fight over things that don’t really matter—like possessions with little value. It’s one thing to fight for your house or your children, but staking everything on cheap silverware or bedsheets might not serve your interests in the long run. If your divorce is headed for court, then reserve your energy for the big-ticket items.
5. Using the court to get revenge
In a difficult divorce, revenge is a natural emotion—but it’s one that is likely to backfire. For a start, fighting over every last issue prolongs the court case—increasing the costs of the divorce and reducing the value of what you and your spouse (and ultimately your children, if there are any in the picture) receive. Furthermore, a prolonged divorce will likely add to the stress your children experience.
6. Over-using your divorce attorney
A good divorce attorney is key to winning a divorce settlement, but over-use them and you’ll find yourself over-paying. The average American divorce lawyer costs around $250-$270 per hour and in some places in California and New York the figure can easily reach $500/hour. Anything you can do to cut down your attorney’s billable hours, you should do, including preparing as much as possible for each meeting so that your attorney only has to focus on the things you are paying them to focus on.
7. Forgetting alimony insurance
In the course of your divorce settlement, you may secure an alimony commitment from your spouse. This would guarantee your future income, but what if your soon-to-be-former spouse goes bankrupt, falls ill, or dies?
Enter alimony insurance, a type of life or disability insurance on your ex-spouse. The challenging aspect of alimony insurance is that it requires your ex-spouse’s agreement and they must take a medical exam. However, if alimony insurance is included in your divorce agreement, then your ex-spouse will be legally committed to comply.
8. Hiding or taking jointly owned assets
Hiding jointly owned assets—or worse lying about it in court—is a bad idea, no matter how much you believe it’s justified. Doing this can compromise any agreements that have already been made in your divorce, can result in you actually losing these assets if your case goes to trial, and can even lead to criminal charges.
9. Not complying with court orders
If your divorce case goes to court, it will be heard in what’s known as a family court or domestic court. Family courts have limited jurisdiction, in that they only hear cases involving family law. However, their decisions are just as legally binding as any other civil court ruling—and failure to comply can lead to complications in your divorce proceedings or even sanctions for contempt of court.
10. Badmouthing your spouse in front of the kids
It’s natural to be angry at your spouse during a divorce, and venting in front of the children is a logical extension of this. However, there are serious downsides to badmouthing your spouse in front of your children. For starters, it could hurt them and their relationship with their other parent, and may even cause them to develop a deep antipathy to having kids when they are older. Studies have shown that kids who hear negative things about a parent from a young age often internalize it (particularly when the parent is of the same sex as them), damaging them in later life. Furthermore, speaking poorly about your spouse to your kids could hurt your chances of winning custody as family courts do consider what sort of relationship kids have with their parents.
One of the reasons divorces are so stressful is that they expose each party to the potential loss of assets, custody, and even sanity. It’s natural to feel lots of emotions during a divorce, but it’s also important to try and stay calm through the process. Keeping a cool head and avoiding common divorce mistakes is key to bringing about a more positive outcome for yourself, your kids, and maybe even your spouse.