During my entire career of being a divorce attorney, I’ve seen a lot when it comes to my clients. I’ve seen emotion that breaks my heart, kind gestures between parties that is inspiring, and yes, even love and friendship between a couple getting divorced. That said, I’ve also seen clients and opposing clients at their most vicious, their most naïve, and their most vulnerable. In some cases, big divorce mistakes can happen when clients let their emotions influence important decisions—consciously or unconsciously.
Here are Ten of the Biggest Divorce Mistakes I’ve Seen by my Clients:
1. Discussing Settlement Terms with Your Spouse:
Never discuss any settlement terms with your spouse during your divorce proceeding and especially during settlement negotiations. This is a huge mistake because letting your spouse know what terms of the settlement are most important to you or what you would be willing to settle for, gives away any leverage you may have had. Your spouse will certainly share this information with their attorney placing you at an immediate disadvantage. You should only discuss settlement terms with your attorney who can develop the proper strategy to ensure your case settles based on the terms that are most important to you.
2. Not Disclosing Your True Income or Hiding Assets:
In every divorce case in the State of Illinois, both spouses will be required to fill out a “Financial Affidavit”, which is a document that shows your income, your expenses, your assets and your debts, and which you are swearing under oath is true and correct. If you attempt to hide any of your income aside from your employment, such as additional rental income you may be receiving or income from online sales you are making, you are lying under oath and will most likely be caught.
If you have any investment or banking accounts that your spouse does not know about and that you purposefully fail to disclose, you may also be caught. In 2020, there is a paper trail for almost all financial transactions, and if your Spouse’s attorney investigates your income or assets, such as by sending subpoenas to any financial institution they would like, you will face sanctions in court. Your attorney will also likely withdraw from your case as they cannot represent you if you are not being truthful.
3. Frivolously Calling the Police for Non-Emergencies:
Many people end up feeling angry, frustrated and hurt by their spouse in a divorce proceeding and it can be difficult to see things clearly through a calm, rational and logical perspective, especially when minor children are involved. Absent an emergency, if you end up calling the police on your spouse due to your belief that your spouse is not following a court order, is infringing on your parenting time, or is doing something you do not approve of, this will only cause harm to your character and to your case in Court.
Judges do not like hearing about either spouse frivolously calling the police for a non-emergency in the heat of the moment. Instead of making one of the biggest divorce mistakes, you need to take a deep breath and immediately contact your attorney to discuss the issue and see what your options are. If your spouse is violating a court order then your attorney will handle the issue in court. If your spouse is infringing on your parenting time then your attorney can ensure you receive make-up parenting time. Always contact your attorney first.
4. Not Complying with Court Orders:
Another one of the biggest divorce mistakes: If a Judge has issued a court order that you feel is unfair or that you are unhappy about, you still must comply with it! Most court orders entered during a divorce proceeding prior to trial or settlement are temporary orders. If you are unhappy about a court order, you need to talk to your attorney about the issue to strategize on what can be done to change the court order.
By purposefully not following a court order, you can be held in contempt of court and be sanctioned and fined. Not following court orders only provides your spouse with further leverage and harms your character in front of the Judge. If you purposefully do not comply with a financial court order, your spouse can seek to not only have you held in contempt of court, but also have a body attachment (civil court warrant) issued for your arrest and you can face jail time until the financial order is complied with. Always speak to your attorney about your case strategy as orders are often temporary and can be changed.
5. Misunderstanding What You Believe is “Fair” verse the Court’s Procedures and Rulings:
The Court system is not always perceived as “fair” to each individual. Part of your attorney’s job is to manage your expectations and explain all possible outcomes prior to going into court. However, some people can still be very shocked by the outcomes in Court. If your divorce proceeding has minor children involved, the Court will always look at what is in the best interests of your minor children first, before considering what may be in either spouse’s best interest.
If you feel that your attorney is not managing your expectations or providing sufficient information to you so you can understand the Court’s procedures and rulings, then you should consider hiring a different attorney. At any point in your divorce case, you can hire a new attorney who will substitute into the case without losing any progress and without any additional fees.
6. Discussing Settlement Terms Prior to Filing for Divorce:
If you or your spouse are interested in filing for divorce, it is very likely that you have spoken to your spouse about your wishes and intentions. While many clients wish to maintain an amicable divorce proceeding, you should not discuss settlement terms of your divorce with your spouse with too much detail.
You do not want to provide your spouse with information their attorney can use against you in a divorce proceeding to give your spouse an advantage over you. If you are uncertain about how your divorce case may be handled in court, what you may be entitled to or what you may be liable for, you should contact an experienced family law attorney who can go over your entire marital estate and provide you with peace of mind by discussing your options with you before the divorce proceeding begins.
7. Letting Your Emotions Get the Best of You:
Depending on the circumstances surrounding how your marriage ended or depending on how your spouse is treating you during your divorce proceeding, it is normal to feel frustration, anger, or despair during a divorce proceeding. While you should not be hard on yourself if you are experiencing these emotions, as getting a divorce can be one of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life, you should not let these emotions get the best of you when making decisions about your divorce proceeding or settlement.
For example, some clients can end up fighting for assets they do not truly want or are not in their financial best interest in the long-term, to spite their spouse. You need to ensure you are working with an attorney who will listen to your frustrations in addition to helping you refocus your perspective onto what is in your long-term best interests financially to ensure you make the best possible decisions for your future.
8. Forgetting that Emails, Text Messages and Records Can Be Tracked and Used Against You:
While divorce proceedings can certainly cause intense arguments with your spouse that include feelings of frustration and rage, you should never send your spouse any emails, text messages or recordings while you are in the heat of the moment.
Anything you put in writing can be used against you in court, even if you later apologize for the message. For example, threatening your spouse that he will never see his children again can be sent by your spouse to their attorney and used against you in court to show that you are not interested in facilitating a relationship with your spouse and your children, and could affect any custody determination (now referred to as parenting time and decision making). If you feel the need to vent your frustrations you should do so to a third party.
9. Comparing Your Divorce Case to Your Friend’s or Co-Worker’s Divorces:
All divorce cases are different and the outcomes depend on many case-specific factors. While it is normal to talk about your divorce case with your friends or even at times your co-workers, you should never take legal advice from anyone who is not an attorney, and you should especially never compare your divorce case to theirs.
While many people become familiar with the divorce process through going through a divorce themselves, they only understand the divorce process through a very narrow lens based on the specific factors of their case, including how much money they and their spouse earn, whether minor children are involved, whether they own investment accounts, whether they own real estate property, and the list goes on and on. If you ever have a question or concern based on information you hear from a third party, you should always speak with your attorney, and should never make any decisions based on someone else’s divorce case.
10. Believing Only your Friends and Family Can See Your Social Media Accounts:
If you are going through a divorce proceeding you should think twice before posting anything to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media site. Most attorneys, including your spouse’s attorney, use “electronic discovery” to access information from your social media sites to assist their client in their divorce case.
You should not post any direct or indirect disparaging remarks about your spouse, post any photos showing you with a new significant other, or post any photos or comments that could portray you as a negligent parent, such as showing drug or alcohol use. Anything you put in writing or any photo you post to the public can be used against you. If you ever have a question or concern about any content you wish to post, you should ask your attorney first prior to posting it.
Tiffany M. Hughes is a divorce attorney and Managing Partner of The Law office of Tiffany M. Hughes. Awarded as a Top 100 in Lawyers Magazine in 2018 and 2019, Hughes represents individuals in all aspects of family and matrimonial law proceedings, including litigation, mediation, allocation of parental responsibility (formerly known as custody), parentage, divorce and other child-related matters.