Getting divorced has long been recognised as one of the most stressful life events, up there with the death of a loved one and a major illness. Divorce can cause or exacerbate health problems, lead to psychological trauma, cost you a lot of money, and make you all mopey and weird at barbecues for at least a year. So why are between 40 and 50% of married Americans willing to pay such a high price? Like the old joke says, because it’s worth it.
While escaping a bad marriage is ultimately good, the path there is rarely described as “fun” or “awesome.” But if you avoid the worst mistakes of this sadly-necessary institution, you can hopefully come away with fewer scars. And then maybe, later, you can be ready to get back out there (into a whole new marriage that might begin in love and end in despair).
Using your children against your spouse
Using children as bargaining chips, forcing them to “take sides,” or using them to hurt your soon-to-be-ex is common in divorces, and it’s the worst thing you can do. Your children are not getting divorced — you are. They’re innocent bystanders whose lives are being ripped apart in ways they can’t understand. You are the adult and have a moral responsibility to lessen their trauma as much as possible. Both spouses should put their kids first, but even if your spouse doesn’t, you need to be the one adult in the situation.
Being overly emotional
Some people maintain that divorce is 95% emotional and 5% legal, but this doesn’t account for the complexity of ending a marriage for most people, where the “end of your relationship” part and the “splitting things equitably and legally” part are impossibly intertwined. Your job, as difficult as it is, is to untie the knot as best as you can, put your emotions aside, and come at this from as close to clear-eyed perspective as you can manage. Remember: Marriage is temporary, but divorce is permanent, so don’t listen to the emotional side that will lead you to bad decisions just to “get it over with” or hurt your ex-spouse.
Trying to hide the money
The world is full of nudniks who think they’re going to outsmart the legal system by hiding their assets before they get divorced. This is a bad idea. The specifics vary from state to state, but marital property is generally either split 50/50, or the court’s goal is equitable distribution. Even if you think this is unfair, it’s the law, and the law is not playing. If you file fraudulent financial disclosures, lie under oath, or defy court orders, you may be fined heavily, lose the entirety of the assets that you were trying to protect, be charged with perjury or contempt of court, and ultimately end up in jail. You’ll deserve it, and I bet the judge will personally love passing down the sentence too.
Hiring a bad lawyer
Divorce is a particularly complicated aspect of family law, and you probably can’t handle it. While it’s possible to get divorced without a lawyer (and a lot of people do), if there are children, property, or even modest assets involved, even the most “we’re still going to be friends” couple should hire a couple of friendly attorneys. It varies from state to state, but in many divorces, spouses are required to sue each other, file many complicated forms, hire process servers in some cases, and more. It’s a steep learning curve, there’s a lot on the line, and you’re probably not in the best mental state, so hire a professional if there’s any way you can. But make sure they’re an ethical, upstanding divorce lawyer. There must be one or two out there.
Not listening to your lawyer
It takes a special kind of arrogance to hire a divorce attorney and ignore their advice, but people do it all the time. The uniquely emotional nature of divorce seems to convince some people that the law-talking-guy they pay just doesn’t understand why it’s a good idea to bulldoze your own house.
Check out this comment thread from Reddit. It’s full of divorce lawyers telling horror stories about their worst clients. If you’re getting divorced, don’t end up as some lawyer’s most upvoted comment.
Acting out of spite or anger
I’ll bet someone you know has a horror story about an acrimonious divorce in which both participants hated each other so much that they tried to use the divorce to to destroy each other’s lives by dragging out the proceedings for year (or decades), filing suits and countersuits, bitterly fighting even the smallest battle — only to end up further enriching some already wealthy divorce lawyers. Don’t do that. The best revenge is living well, and the best response to a hateful spouse is to cut them out of your life as quickly and completely as possible. You’re better than this. At least, I assume you are.
Putting it off indefinitely
It’s easy to be sucked into the day-to-day morass of a bad relationship and gradually forget there are other options, but once you recognise that things have become intolerable with your spouse and they aren’t likely to ever become tolerable again, it’s time to pull off the bandaid. The sooner you get started with a divorce, the sooner you get finished with it, and the sooner you can begin your new life of either happily enjoying a carefree divorcee’s party lifestyle or living in a motel room by the highway, bitterly ruminating over every way you were wronged. Either way, if you’re at the point where you know it’s going to happen, get it over with.