Divorce is a life transition that impacts many people. It can leave scars on families that get passed from generation to generation. Often times, divorce is filled with despair, anger, blame, shame and in many cases, the desire to inflict pain on the other party.
This string of deep, scarring emotions are not easily forgotten. When it comes to financial matters related to divorce, asking someone to take the emotion out of it and treat the divorce like any other business transaction is like asking the tide to take a day off.
Sandra Fava, Esquire is a partner at Riker Danzig in Morristown NJ. She leads the family law department that handles these matters on a daily basis. I recently met with Sandra to talk about some common mistakes that people make when entering the process of divorce.
Here are 7 common mistakes to avoid:
- Finding a good attorney. Rather than pay for a consultation with a competent attorney, too many people rely on Google searches to find the attorneys or firms at the top of the list. Here’s a reality check: Many of these listings come up at on top because of paid advertising. Many of these firms offering free consultations are actually ‘divorce factories’ that run their prospective clients through a system to maximize their effectiveness of the practice, rather than catering to the individual client’s needs. These ‘factories’ are less interested in really listening to what their clients are saying—what interests them more is the volume of clients they’re signing on. The cost of a paid consultation is minimal compared to the cost endured by entering a process of being treated like a number instead of a human being in a critically vulnerable position.
- Taking the right advice. Many people become confused by an overload of available information on the web. The average person simply doesn’t have the experience or knowledge to separate fact from fiction when learning a new area. Don’t get caught up with the thousands of pages of data, opinions, articles and editorial conjecture. Your divorce is personal and the facts and circumstances of others have very little to do with yours. Rely on your qualified team to help guide and assist you through the process. Taking the advice of strangers on the internet is not a good choice for a life transition that could potentially change the trajectory of your life.
- Setting realistic expectations. Too many people have difficulty confronting the reality of their situation and are not honest with themselves about reasonable and rational expectations regarding outcomes, timing, and costs. If there is any time to be honest, transparent, and true, it is the time in which a life transition is occurring. Usually during this time, emotions are raw and the otherwise normal, everyday mindset and decision making can be altered. Emotions can easily take over and guide decisions which can lead to making significant mistakes.
- Honesty. As divorce is so personal, there tends to be a lack of forthcoming regarding all the facts. People may be embarrassed to disclose all information to the attorney, without realizing that the attorney needs all details to properly manage a case. Keeping the truth from an attorney can significantly hurt a divorce case. Remember, your attorney is your advocate, not someone who is there to judge.
- Having the right people by your side. Many people facing divorce do not set up the necessary support system to help them through the process. A proper support team might include a therapist, a financial planner, a CPA, and friends who will be there for them throughout the process. Using the attorney as the only system of support is an expensive and less effective way of navigating the non-legal issues.
- Knowing the facts. Some people enter the divorce process having little or no financial information about the family’s true situation. Their avoidance mentality leads to expensive mistakes and sometimes a protracted process that is detrimental to all parties.
- Listening to the right people. People often listen to friends or relatives about their opinions on legal positions, rather than on their counsel’s advice. Just because you want a particular outcome doesn’t mean that the law will agree with your position. Check in with your attorney to make sure your expectations are realistic.
Divorce is rarely easy, simple and painless. You can make your process a little more manageable if you avoid these seven common mistakes.