What you don’t know about divorce could cost you big if your marriage ends. Here are seven things that experienced divorce attorneys know that many people nearing or enduring the divorce process do not…
Using social media during your divorce could prove pricey. If you bad-mouth your spouse on social media, your spouse’s attorney might use these posts in court to make you look like a bad person. If you post pictures of fun things you do or fun places you go, your spouse’s attorney might use these to make it appear that you spend recklessly or don’t take proper care of your children.
What to do: Stop using social media until your divorce is final. Delete any existing posts that are critical of your spouse…or that show you spending money or enjoying yourself without your spouse—but remember that your spouse’s attorney still can subpoena deleted pictures and comments. Do not assume that your spouse cannot access your social-media posts—even if you “unfriend” your spouse from your account, he/she might remain close with one of your acquaintances who still has access.
Taking your divorce to court will benefit only the attorneys. Some spouses insist on contesting divorces in court “out of principle.” That’s a bad idea unless one of your principles is paying attorneys roughly 10% of the value of everything you own. Other spouses refuse to settle because they “want their day in court.” But divorce court does not offer the fair hearing and sympathetic ear you might expect. The judge who handles your divorce probably will have dozens or hundreds of cases on his docket. He isn’t going to be able to dig deep to discover the truth about you and your spouse or carefully weigh who should receive each possession…he’s going to get a thumbnail sketch of the relationship and take his best shot. Whether the result is to your liking is an expensive gamble.
What to do: If you are offered a settlement that you can live with, take it. Do this even if the settlement doesn’t seem “fair.” No one thinks his divorce settlement is fair. The system isn’t designed to produce fairness…it’s designed to end the marriage according to the laws of your state.
Your spouse’s lawyer will love it if you find new love. If your spouse’s attorney learns that you have a new romantic partner before the divorce is final, the attorney likely will try to use this against you. He might try to make you appear unfaithful even if the relationship did not begin until after you separated from your spouse. He might make a big deal about the fact that you’re spending marital assets wooing or cavorting with this new lover. And if you have minor children, he might question whether it is safe and responsible for the court to allow you to have or share custody now that this partner is in the picture.
What to do: Don’t date until your divorce is final. If you already are dating, end the relationship…or at least put the relationship on hold until the divorce is final.
Your jewelry and other small valuables might mysteriously disappear. Jewelry, collectibles and other small valuables sometimes go missing immediately before or during the divorce process. Both spouses inevitably deny knowing where these items have gone and claim that the other must be hiding them. It can be impossible to prove who is lying.
What to do: Move all of your jewelry and other small valuables out of your home if you suspect that divorce proceedings could be imminent. Store them in a bank safe-deposit box that your spouse does not have access to…or in the home of a trusted friend or relative.
Your spouse’s “gambling losses” actually might be hidden assets. Say that in the months before your spouse files for divorce, he makes a confession—he lost a small fortune gambling in a casino. Maybe your spouse really did lose this money…or maybe he has thousands of dollars in casino chips stashed somewhere in hopes of keeping them out of the pool of assets divided in the divorce.
What to do: Tell your divorce attorney about any recent gambling trips or gambling losses by your spouse. Divorce attorneys and divorce courts are familiar with the casino-chip ploy. There are ways in which to obtain the records for casino-chip purchases and other ways to get your share of these assets.
You will grieve—and it could cost you. Maybe you think that you won’t grieve over the end of your marriage because the relationship was troubled for some time and you’re happy to see it end. Maybe you think that you won’t grieve because you’re not very emotional. Don’t bet on it.
Virtually everyone who is going through a divorce endures considerable grief. That grief can cause him/her to make emotional decisions when it’s crucial that he makes rational ones—perhaps accepting an unfavorable settlement just to end the pain of the divorce process…or battling it out with a spouse over every last detail as the attorney’s fees pile up.
What to do: See a therapist who specializes in marital issues or in dealing with grief. Not only should this help you avoid making bad grief-driven decisions, it also makes it less likely that you will discuss your emotions at length with your divorce attorney. Divorce attorneys often become sympathetic ears for their clients, but they are not trained to help clients with emotional matters…and they typically charge much more per hour than therapists.
Venting your anger at your spouse likely will hurt you and your kids much more than it hurts your spouse. It might feel good to behave angrily toward your spouse during your divorce—but your spouse’s divorce attorney will use your angry calls, voice mails and texts to make you appear immature and unstable. And the more spouses snipe at each other during a divorce, the greater the emotional fallout for their kids—even when those kids are already grown.
What to do: If you and your spouse cannot speak civilly with each other during the divorce process, do not cut off communication entirely—that would force you to communicate exclusively through your attorneys, which would inflate legal bills—but do communicate only via e-mail. With e-mail, you can wait until you have cooled down to respond to a message that makes you angry.
A therapist can provide tips for keeping your anger in check, too. Warning: Do not spitefully sell off, give away or destroy your spouse’s possessions. If you do this, you likely will be required to compensate your spouse for the losses as part of the divorce terms.