Monday 25 April 2011

Divorce Mistakes to Avoid

Note: I am not a professional. I have not researched the topic high and low to present the most comprehensive analysis of the topic. I am merely writing about some things I myself have run across and about some questions I have asked myself.

I couldn't help thinking in writing this article of the many things in life I don't know anything about, but end up learning about out of necessity. I've had some wonky PSA tests and have been in for two - yes, count'em - two prostate biopsies: more fun than a barrel of monkeys! (see my blog My Prostate: something near and dear to me) I've had the pleasure of watching myself on TV as a doctor examined me from the inside out during a colonoscopy. "Hey! How long is that thing? Aren't those my tonsils?" (see my blog Where the sun don't shine: my colonoscopy) Somehow those two examples of "things in life I've learned a lot about but wouldn't have minded skipping altogether", tie in with the next close up and personal examination. There's a joke that has been floating around for years amongst us guys where we point out the gravity of a situation by making a scary but joking reference to a cavity search with the line, "Bend over and spread'em." Maybe we have something of an anal fixation.

Before deciding on a divorce
It would seem that we are not necessarily going to be any happier after a divorce. This isn't just an opinion; there are studies to prove it. While divorce may remove some problems, it can also create new problems, so unhappily married does not necessarily mean happily divorced. Some, who were unhappily married but decided to stick it out, eventually ended up happy again. (see Does divorce make us happier?).

Two-thirds of the time, it is the woman who files for divorce. In only 7% of cases do both spouses petition for divorce together so that means that 93% of time, it is only one spouse that has decided to opt out. And when it is the woman who files, the most common reason is neglect. (see Two-thirds of divorces are filed by women)

The marriage and family therapist, Michele Weiner-Davis, believes we do not do enough to sustain marriages; we fold up our tents and bail rather than seeking solutions to our problems. She sees hopelessness as the biggest factor in marriages ending and her entire approach is to focus on the future, not the past, emphasizing that a situation can and will change. (see Michel Weiner-Davis: The Divorce Buster)

Get legal representation
Working it out together, doing some sort of mediation, therapy, counselling; there are various options which involve the couple discussing what to do. However, if one of the couple gets a lawyer, the name of the game completely changes. AskMen.Com's article "Top 10: Mistakes Men Make In Divorce" by Jeffery Leving, Law Correspondent, is actually applicable to both sexes. Get a lawyer and don't roll over.

No.8 Allowing your spouse to convince you to not hire an attorney

If your spouse has hired a lawyer, you need to hire one quickly. If you don’t, you are an amateur playing against professionals. One underhand tactic is for a spouse’s attorney to offer to represent both parties to save time and money. Not only is it unethical, but it also creates a conflict of interest.

The process is designed to be adversarial, and there is no way a lawyer can fairly represent you both. The odds are that your spouse has something to hide or something she wants, and she knows that if you hire a lawyer it will be more difficult to achieve that goal.

No.4 Becoming passive

The last thing you want to do when your spouse announces she wants a divorce is to become completely acquiescent. Many people are manipulative, and if they think they can manipulate you into getting what they want out of the divorce, such as money, property or custody, they will do so.

If you are stunned or saddened, you may agree to anything and everything your spouse recommends. Don’t confuse passivity with being reasonable. My experience is that the shock of divorce soon wears off, and once it does, you’re much less vulnerable to making this mistake.

From here on in, the rest of this article is based on the premise one of the couple has lawyered up and the other has had to follow suit. So, we not only have a couple of spouses, we have a couple of legal representatives.

Being reasonable, not "flipping out"
Not being emotional in one of the most emotional events of one's life seems like a tall order. In the article "5 Worst Mistakes you can make in a Divorce case" by Justin Lee Kelsey, an attorney in Massachusetts, the author points out the most egregious of behaviours due to emotions running high:

Mistake #5: Wanting you "day in court"
Mistake #4: Failing to make full disclosure
Mistake #3: Telling the world your side of the story
Mistake #2: Flaunting or focusing on the boyfriend/girlfriend
Mistake #1: Involving your children in your divorce

Is there a danger, no, a huge danger of us doing something out of character or just downright dumb because we've let this get the better of us?

Keeping quiet
In my posting Blogging your way through divorce, I talked about those who are blogging about their divorce while they are in the middle of their divorce. While blogging can be therapeutic, is a blogger running the risk of jeopardising their negotiations by revealing personal things which could very well make their way to opposing counsel? Mr. Kelset expands on his mistake #3:

Although I always encourage my clients to confide in and find support in close family members or family, I also warn them against the danger of sharing too much. The dangers of sharing your private information on sites like Facebook have made recent news, but this is just the latest way to share too much. While it is important to have a support system when going through a divorce, talking to anyone who will listen usually results in your personal information making it back to your spouse, or even into court. Mutual friends can inadvertently disclose important strategies while trying not to take sides. And helpful friends explaining what their sister's best friend's brother's divorce was like can provide poor and unreliable information. If you have concerns make sure you discuss them with your attorney first and only discuss your case with your closest confidants. In addition, make sure you consider how your case is different than anyone else's.

However, beyond blogging, professionals talk of those who try to start a new life before their divorce is finalized. In MacLean's magazine's review of Joseph Cordell's book "The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce", the author writes:

Revealing too much information on the Internet is a big mistake, too, he writes. "Too many men decide they need to reinvent themselves as they emerge from a failed marriage, and they put forth their new image on Facebook or MySpace." Bad idea. "You don’t want to appear in court representing yourself as quiet, churchgoing and sober, and then have opposing counsel present a MySpace page that shows you playing beer pong."

If you’ve got a new girlfriend, take a close look at what she’s posting, too, Cordell tells clients. He gives the example of a husband who pleaded poverty during proceedings only to learn in court that his new girlfriend posted news of the expensive jewellery he’d given her.

When men ask his firm, "What can my girlfriend put up on Facebook about me and our relationship?" Cordell says their answer is: "Nothing. Not a word. Not a single photo. Nothing." He goes further, telling men to buy a new computer at the first sign of marital discord. "The cost of a new computer is cheap compared with the cost of an incriminating browsing history."

He also warns men to "tell your lawyer about all your Internet habits at the outset." "We’ve been able to persuade judges that a mom can’t be doing the best job possible with her kids if she’s spending five or six hours a day glued to Facebook. She’s literally stealing time from the kids. If the same argument can be lodged against you, your lawyer needs to know."

For one of the wildest, out of control, emotional divorces, see my posting Tricia Walsh: Let's divorce on YouTube!. Not satisfied with lawyering up, Ms. Walsh posted videos on YouTube describing her husband's stash of Viagra and pornography and various details about their sex life together or lack thereof.

What's fair is not always equal
One spouse earns less than the other. One spouse has the children full time. A fifty-fifty split may not be fair and while it may be at first glance hard to swallow, one of the couple is going to have to accept the idea and pay up.

Moving Out
The experts say you shouldn't move out before a divorce settlement and this rule is applicable to both men and women. If you move out, you are giving the appearance of abandoning the marriage and you are also not leaving the door open to a possible reconciliation. - Okay, these experts do bring up spousal abuse which may change this rule and what needs to be done immediately. - If there are children involved, you can look like an absentee father or mother and not being around raises the risk of "not being there" and being accused of neglecting the kids.

Babbling to your spouse
I quote from the MacLean's article on Joseph Cordell's book "The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce" and although this is about the mistakes men make, I'd say it is applicable to both spouses:

Blabbing to your wife is another mistake. “The most destructive conversations typically seem to happen late at night on Friday or Saturday, usually in the kitchen,” he writes. “Both husband and wife are tired, and maybe one or both has had a drink or two. She says, ‘I’m going to win.’ He says, ‘No, you’re not, because my lawyer is going to say that you took Valium and that you made a mistake on your financial forms. I’m going to get the kids and I’m going to have to pay you little or nothing.’

“What happens next is she tells her lawyer what she’s learned. Her lawyer fixes the mistakes on the financial forms and prepares to show that her doctor prescribed Valium because her husband was driving her crazy.”

Yes, you're overtired, maybe you've had a drink, and you're saying things you shouldn't say. You may be angry. When emotions run high, who knows what any of us might say that we will regret later? (Hello Tricia Walsh!)

From "Stupid Divorce Mistakes Most Guys Make":

#6 Talking too much -- especially to your wife
Most guys can't resist getting sucked into conversations or verbal sparring during conflicts. This is not the time to share! You don't have to prove that you have the upper hand or blow off steam. Remember, everything you tell her will find its way back to her lawyer.

Final Word
Some of the above may seem just for men, but I can see it's also for women; it's for anybody taking the plunge, so to speak.

If one side gets a lawyer, the other side must also get legal representation. It must be a level playing field and if one decides to get professional help, both have to do the same thing. It does bring to mind a curious question as to just who is getting the divorce at this point, the couple or the lawyers.

One must be cautious in disclosing information as this can affect negotiations. In fact, the word "strategy" is used in articles describing the debate over the terms of the divorce. The question comes to mind as to whether or not the law is specific enough to define an "objective agreement or settlement", that is, objective means there is no negotiation on the part of the spouses, the law has applied some sort of formula and decided the terms of the divorce.

In Does divorce makes us happier? I wrote, "Getting married is fun. Being married is a joy. Divorce sucks." While I laud Michele Weiner-Davis and her approach to saving a marriage, I can't help thinking that once the retainer is paid to a lawyer, the entire nature of the proceedings has changed in both tone and objective and the likelihood of an 11th hour reprieve is slim to nil.


Wikipedia: Implications of divorce
Recent sociological studies have pointed to a variety of long-term economic, social, physical, and mental health consequences of divorce, although the full extent of such effects remains hotly debated. All the studies to date suffer from an inherent methodological weakness which researchers have not yet found a solution to: establishing the relevant baseline for comparisons. By definition, all divorces are of unhappy couples; meanwhile, those who do not divorce are some mix of happy couples and of unhappy ones who stayed married. Comparisons of life outcomes or well-being along the simple divorced/not divorced axis will therefore always show poorer outcomes for the group which is composed entirely of unhappy couples, demonstrating simply that being part of a happy couple is better than being part of an unhappy one.

Macleans Magazine - Jan 20/2011 - Book Review
The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce by Joseph Cordell
"Smart, fair-minded, hard-working good men make all sorts of mistakes in divorce. Executives and professors and doctors make the same mistakes as plumbers and truck drivers," according to Joseph Cordell in The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce. The lawyer and his wife run a bustling St. Louis law practice specializing in men’s divorce. “You can’t make a mistake we haven’t seen,” he writes.

About.Com - Book Review
The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce by Joseph Cordell
[This book] is a must-read for any father or husband going through a divorce or even thinking about it. If you find yourself in this very tough spot, get this book and read it carefully before making the final decision. It will help you think through the process and make smarter decisions at every step along the way.

Scribd: The 10 Stupiest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce by Joesph Cordell
Excerpt: Chapter #1: Moving Out

Fox Business video - Apr 1/2011
Divorce Mistakes to Avoid for Those Over 50
Divorce attorney Vikki Ziegler on the financial mistakes to avoid, particularly for those over the age of 50.

The Washington Post - Mar 23/2011
Divorce Over 50: 3 Mistakes to Avoid by Catey Hill
...getting divorced after 50 is plenty complicated, with rules and pitfalls that younger couples never have to consider. ... While the overall divorce rate has decreased slightly over the past two decades, for those over 50 it has doubled. ... the stakes are higher for couples in their 50s, 60s and 70s. ... it's critical to get the best settlement possible. "You have much less time to recover if mistakes are made," says Jeffrey A. Landers, president and founder of New York-based Bedrock Divorce Advisors, which consults divorcing women. "There are no do-overs."

Divorced Women Online - Dec 9/2010
How NOT to Divorce: 9 Deadly Mistakes To Avoid by Cathy Meyer
The great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, once said, “Be careful, you don’t want to make the wrong mistake.” Nowhere is that more true than in the area of divorce advice. Yogi also said, “90% of this game is half mental.” Also true if you are contemplating, or involved in, a divorce. Almost always, the mindset of the people involved in the divorce is what will eventually dictate the length, complexity and difficulty of the action. If you want to end your marriage as cheaply and as painlessly as possible, do yourself a favor and heed well this advice.
1. Do not think of divorce as a war!
2. Do not demonize your spouse!
3. Do not fail to make concessions!
4. Do not think you are above the guidelines!
5. Do not think that “words don’t count”!
6. Do not fail to get the help you need!
7. Do not think you will get a “free ride”!
8. Do not let yourself think that things wont get better!
9. Do not litigate! Be smart, choose mediation.
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t make the mistake of suing.

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