What Not to Do When Facing a Divorce

The divorce process is difficult enough without making mistakes that worsen tensions and create additional problems. With all the financial, practical and emotional issues that need to be settled, it pays to be aware of key things you should not do, if you want to make your divorce process go as smoothly as possible.

Consider the following tips on what to avoid when filing for divorce:

  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations – If you expect your divorce will solve all your problems or that you are going to end up with a windfall, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.  Divorce is often expensive, especially if you wind up dragging things out and going to court for trial, and legal fees and court costs can escalate quickly.  After divorce, the same money that supported one household will have to support two. The higher-earning spouse will probably wind up paying child/spousal support, and the lower-earning spouse will probably get less support than expected. It’s often better to settle out of court, especially if you don't have children or a house or haven't been married very long.
  • Don't try to hide assets – Hiding assets in an attempt to keep them from your spouse can lead to big problems.  If you move money out of accounts once the divorce action has started, you can wind up being held in contempt of court and sanctioned. Suspicious spouses may turn to forensic accountants to examine accounts and statements and find out where assets are being hidden.  If you are contemplating actions such as cashing out your retirement accounts, running up credit card debt, or selling the house, you are likely to get caught.
  • Don’t use your kids as pawns – Parents do great harm by playing tug-of-war with their children or using them to inflict pain on the other parent. Children suffer a great deal in the divorce process, and they should have their needs considered and receive support from both parents. Do not talk unnecessarily about the divorce process or bad-mouth the other parent. Focus on making them feel loved, and do positive things with them like attending events, going on outings, helping them with homework, and listening to their concerns and allaying their fears.
  • Don't ignore taxes -- There are many tax implications to be aware of in divorce.  If you are receiving or paying alimony and/or child support, this will affect your taxes, as does who gets to claim the children as a tax deduction. If you get the house, can you afford the mortgage, taxes and upkeep?  Single people are not allowed to shelter as many capital gains from taxes, and stocks can also be at issue if you have to pay capital gains taxes. And when splitting up retirement accounts, be aware that you could end up with less than you anticipated if you have to pay taxes and penalties.
  • Don’t leave yourself without insurance – If you previously had medical and dental insurance through your spouse, you will have to determine how you will pay for this on your own.  If you have children, will your ex continue to cover them, and is it possible to continue the policies?  Can you afford to get life, long-term care, or property insurance on your own? Find out what your options are to ensure that you and your family continue to be protected.
  • Don’t time your divorce poorly – Are you aware that if you have been married ten years, you may be entitled to collect on your spouse’s work record, if this is greater than your own?  If you are close to that ten years mark, timing your divorce accordingly can make a big difference in how much you receive.
  • Don’t overlook debts, credit cards, wills, and joint accounts -- If you or your spouse owe money for things like credit card bills, medical expenses, auto loans, payday loans, or student loans, know who is responsible for these debts and if there a chance that you or your spouse may wind up filing for bankruptcy.  Seek advice from an attorney or accountant as to how you can protect yourself.  Take your name off joint credit cards and file for cards in your own name to establish credit.  Stop adding money to a joint account -- open a separate bank account and start putting your monthly paycheck there. Update your will to prevent your soon-to-be-ex-spouse from receiving the monies and privileges granted in your will -- if you die before a divorce is final, your ex can sue and recover part of your estate.
  • Don't rule out collaborative divorce or mediation -- Collaborative divorce is less adversarial than traditional divorce, as you use professional help to fairly divide property, resolve issues, and manage emotional stress. Mediation allows a divorce mediator to help you and your spouse reach an agreement without a lawyer, although you can still consult a lawyer during the process. Both processes can save time, money, and stress.