The Mistakes People Make Most Often

Most people going through divorce resolve at least at the beginning of the process that they’re not going to lose control of themselves, or their temper, or their legal bill. The good news that most people don’t realize is that, most people going through divorce are able to be successful at doing that. That is, they quietly get about the cruddy, painful business of ending their marriage. They don’t spend hours in court, they don’t run up thousands of dollars in legal bills, and they’re able to get through the pain and get on with their lives.

But there’s no question that some people do make mistakes in divorce – big mistakes. And unfortunately, the nature of divorce is that we often have to live with mistakes we make in divorce for years, sometimes for the rest of our lives.

What are the mistakes people make most often in divorce?

Mistake #1: Giving up control of their divorce – usually to their lawyer. Your lawyer is a professional. He or she is trained in how to represent your interests in court, and you need to listen carefully to the advice your lawyer gives you. But this is not your lawyer’s divorce. It’s yours, and you’re the one who’s going to have to live with the results.

Mistake #2: Dividing up property without a thorough inventory. I see it nearly every day. Before you begin negotiating, you must build a thorough inventory of what you own and what you owe.

Mistake #3: Spending too much time and money letting lawyers gather information. The legal term for this is discovery, and it includes interrogatories, requests for the production of documents, requests for admissions, and depositions. Lawyers love discovery. It turns little cases into big cases, and it keeps the lawyers thoroughly in control of your divorce. Read all about it in the Discovery Money Pit.

Better to gather the information some other way if you can. You and your spouse might be able to simply exchange the information you need. You could use mediation to help you share the information with each other. Often, use of a financial preparation kit is a great way you and your spouse can gather the information you need before you even go to see attorneys or mediators.

Mistake #4: Letting their family or friends tell them what they need, and even sometimes what they should be feeling. Remember, this is your divorce. No one, and I mean no one, can or should tell you how you should get through it, what you should be saying, what you should be doing, or what you should be feeling. Don’t be afraid to rely on your own judgment.

Mistake #5: Not paying enough attention to taxes. I see this one all the time too. People negotiate, reach agreement, and get divorced without thinking through the tax impact of the concessions they’re making. It’s not at all unusual for one of the spouses to get a nasty surprise several months – or years — after the divorce, when they realize for the first time that they’re facing a big tax bill they didn’t know about.

I guess I see more of what I call “big dollar boners” in this area than in any other, so I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes it happen that way. What happens is that judges in most states don’t pay much attention to tax, and so most lawyers don’t pay much attention to tax either.

Mistake #6: Trying to win their spouse back by being generous. This one makes me cry. Here’s the scenario: the spouse who is the left isn’t ready for the marriage to end and decides that he or she can win the leaver back by “being nice.” He or she lets the leaver have everything and agrees to far less than fairness would indicate, hoping Quixotically that the leaver will realize what a wonderful person he or she is leaving and return to the marriage.

I’ve haven’t yet seen it work. What tends to happen instead is that the leaver holds the left in contempt, takes what is offered, and leaves. The left realizes his or her folly only much later when it’s too late to reverse it. The knowledge that he or she has been taken advantage of makes the left resent the leaver and the system and further delays recovery from divorce.

Yes, you read that right. It makes a bad situation worse, not just financially but emotionally as well.