3 Ways to Avoid a Messy Divorce
With a divorce rate of nearly 50% of married couples in the United States, you likely know someone who has gone through, is going through or is about to go through a divorce. You undoubtedly have heard horror stories about how the divorce was an incredibly messy and long process. Here are 3 ways to avoid a messy divorce:
1. Think with your head, not your heart.
Clients that let their emotions drive the divorce process end up spending much more in legal fees and usually end up in a courtroom. This is because the person replaces anger with reason. For example, imagine a divorce case where the wife has a lake house that has been in her family for four generations and is co-owned with her other siblings. She has fond memories of her childhood there and it holds a great amount of sentimental value. A divorcing husband may make it his mission to take the away the wife’s fractional interest in the home out of spite. The wife then becomes spiteful herself and says she wants the expensive watch her husband’s father left him, that is the same value of her interest in the lake house. The situation escalates from there on until they cannot agree on anything. The reality is, because the lake house and the watch are about the same value, a court will, of course, likely award the person their respective property. Had the parties thought logically about this situation instead of with their emotions, they may have been able to work out a deal and avoid court.
2. Do not get legal advice from someone who is not a lawyer
This sounds simple, however, you would be surprised at the number of clients who come into my office and tell me the legal advice they received from their friend. It is usually very bad advice and often 100% incorrect. For example, a friend may tell you “if the house is not in her name, she does not own it, you should kick her out.” Or, ”if you are getting a divorce you should drain all the bank accounts and spend the money before filing in court.” Following this advice can land you in big trouble. If the divorce was not contentious before, it certainly will be if you empty your bank accounts and spend the money.
Although it is totally normal to get emotional support from a friend who has been divorced, do not confuse emotional support with legal advice. Each individual’s divorce is a personal experience so no two divorce cases are the same. As a divorce lawyer, I have handled hundreds of divorce cases, your friend has likely only been involved in one divorce case. I know that it is easy to hear stories of a friend’s brother, co-worker, parent’s divorce and start comparing them to your own case. Please keep in mind that these people are usually divorce in different courts and in sometimes different states. Their experiences do not have to be your own.
3. Do not treat the kids as assets
It is sad but true, the divorce process can bring out the worst in a good person. I have seen countless cases where a parent uses custody (known as parenting time) as a negotiation tool to acquire a more favorable cash settlement. For example, the higher-wage earner parent may ask for shared custody for the sole purpose of lowering the child support obligation. Or a parent will agree to allow the other to remain in the marital home with the children so long as that person waives his or her claim to alimony. Nothing will get a divorce client’s blood boiling faster than using the children as a tool to get more money. When I negotiate a case, I always try to negotiate the parenting plan first and deal with the finances second. If we can agree on parenting but not on money, I encourage clients to submit a partial agreement to the court. For example, settle on the parenting issues and have a trial on the money issues. I have found that financial trials are much less emotional than the custody trials. If you are trying to avoid a messy divorce, you would be well served by avoiding a strategy of treating the children like an asset.