4 Mistakes When Getting Divorced and How to Avoid Making Them

When getting divorced

By Catherine Shanahan, CDFA and Karen Chellew, co-Founders, My Divorce Solution

When getting divorced, jumping into the process without being fully prepared for what is to come can lead to several critical and potentially costly mistakes. Fortunately, with the right preparation, mistakes can be avoided.

Here are four common mistakes people make when getting divorced, along with how to avoid making them:

Mistake No. 1: Failing to confront indecision

Divorce is not generally a snap decision where you wake up one morning and decide to do it in an instant. For most people, the decision to divorceis a much more gradual process that begins with questions such as: Is this marriage working? Is there a way to make it better? Am I done? What would divorce be like? What would life after divorce be like? Is this what I want?

This is what we call the period of indecision. Yet many people hire a lawyer to file divorce papers without fully moving through the period of indecision, thinking they can start the process and continue mulling it over. However, filing divorce papers brings court-driven deadlines, pre-trial discovery requests from the opposing attorney, mandatory court appearances, all of which your attorney will be required to respond to; and all of which will be costing money, lots of money, while the mulling over and indecision continues.

Remember that filing for divorce is a commitment, not something to think over and second-guess once the wheels have been set in motion. Cases can be withdrawn of course, if both sides agree, but that’s after lots of unnecessary fees.

The bottom line: Confront the period of indecision head-on. Get assistance from a professional such as a divorce counselor or other health professional if that will help. But believe it that you will be best served by fully moving through the period of indecision before committing to the divorce process.

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Mistake No. 2: Failing to get organized

There is significant value to getting organized before hitting the “start button” on the divorce process and failing to do so can be and usually is unnecessarily costly, both in terms of legal fees and in terms of the outcome. One of the most important and valuable things you can do for yourself is to prepare in advance. That means not only getting emotionally ready, but also getting your financial information and documents gathered and organized.

When a couple gets married, state law provides certain rights and responsibilities–that’s the contract of marriage. When getting divorced, the court system is set up to evaluate those rights and responsibilities as they relate to whatever assets are owned at the time of separation.  What did the couple accumulate during the marriage?  Are both spouses entitled to all of those assets or not? Will one spouse be obligated to support the other, and what will be fair? If there are children involved, what will the support obligation be and for how long?

If the financial picture is fuzzy, or if all assets are unknown or some are hidden, this process can become volatile, drawn-out, and unnecessarily costly. Very costly. It is also not uncommon for one spouse to be unaware of some or all the marital assets, as well as to have limited access to the information. This also translates into a drawn-out procedure to locate and value marital assets, all leading to unnecessary fees and costs.

The bottom line: Get organized in advance before starting any formal divorce process. Get help if you need it but having your financial house (documents and information) in order in advance generally saves many thousands of dollars in fees and usually translates to a better result in the end.

Mistake No. 3: Choosing the wrong divorce process

There are four main ways you can get a divorce starting with going to court.  First, understand that going to trial to resolve disputed issues means handing all decisions over to a judge, rather than participating yourself in a mutually agreed resolution. Leaving it to a judge to decide what is best for your family is not something you want if you can avoid it. Judges are there to protect people when they need to be protected.

So, if there’s abuse in your marriage, whether it’s financial abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse, that can be an appropriate case to take to trial because the court can enter orders to protect you and your family. However, if you’re arguing over accounts, vacation houses and collectibles, then court is to be avoided if possible.

A second way is for both spouses to hire attorneys or other professionals for themselves but to tell them you ultimately want to settle out of court. This way you let them do the heavy lifting, back and forth and trading proposals, all while it’s settled out of court.

The third way is mediation. This consists of you and your spouse and a neutral third-party in a room (or virtually meeting with them). That person might be an attorney, they might be a mental health professional, they might have a financial background, but their job is not to decide what’s going to happen. They’re helping the two of you reach a decision by providing information along the way and helping the couple reach a compromise.

Lastly, the fourth way is a “do it yourself process”. Some companies are now offering online divorces where they have the forms available and you and your spouse can fill in what you want the court to do. This method is becoming more popular, which is understandable since the cost is a lot lower, the time frame can be much shorter and it’s empowering to do something on your own. However, there’s a very narrow window for spouses to get an outcome that feels fair at the end of that process. Part of that is because divorce is very complex legally, financially and emotionally. The idea that you could do it all on your own is probably not realistic for most people.

Mistake No. 4: Hiring the wrong help

Hiring the right help, whether it’s a therapist, a parenting expert, an attorney, a mediator, or whomever you decide is crucial to your divorce process. Having the right team to help to get you to the finish line can make the process much smoother.

When you’re hiring an attorney, it’s not just where they went to school or how many years they’ve been in practice, or their fees that matter. Consider: Are you comfortable talking to this person? Do you feel like they understand your goals? Are they really going to support your process in the best way possible? Or are you going to be locking horns with this person, fighting your own team the whole way? Having a personality fit with your attorney is just as important–if not more important–than their credentials on paper. In conclusion, entering the divorce process can be a complex undertaking, filled with mixed emotions and high anxiety.

When getting divorced, before pulling the trigger and starting the process, confront the period of indecision, get your financial ducks in a row by getting organized in advance, choose your professionals wisely and pick the right process for your issues. Avoiding these early mistakes will make your process easier, faster and more cost-effective. Additionally, having a strong support system to be there with you every step of the way is important as you are not alone, and you will soon be able to start your new beginning.

Catherine and Karen
Catherine Shanahan, CDFA® and Karen Chellew, Co-Founders, My Divorce Solution


Catherine Shanahan, CDFA® and Karen Chellew are the Co-Founders of My Divorce Solution, the company that prepares you for divorce and protects your future with financial insights. Catherine has over 30 years experience in the financial industry. Karen spent 30 years as a legal liaison. Together, the two are changing the way people get divorced, with the goal of a more fair divorce settlement, a better divorce outcome, and a happier, healthier post-divorce life.

Learn more about Catherine and Karen, and My Divorce Solution here!

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