Avoiding Some Top Mistakes when Getting a Divorce

Mar 31, 2020 | Kathleen M. Newman

Other than lawyers and therapists, who comes out of school knowing what to do in the face of a divorce?  Nobody goes to “divorce school” and hardly anyone is prepared to deal with it when the day comes. Because divorce is a complex, stressful process, it’s easy to make mistakes which severely compound an already difficult situation.   What are some top mistakes?  How can you avoid them?

1.) Using the Wrong Approach to Find a Lawyer.   

Don’t ask a relative or friend for a referral to a lawyer.  Instead, ask for a referral from a professional you trust, like an accountant or a financial planner.  Look at resources online like Super Lawyers or the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Why? Because it’s important you get the attorney who is best suited to your situation.    Like other lawyers, divorce lawyers have their unique approaches and skills. Is the attorney’s personality a good fit? Does she have expertise in issues that relate to your situation?  For example, if you or your spouse own a business or a have a professional practice, your lawyer must have experience in valuing those types of assets. Do you have custody or parenting issues?   Then consider an attorney who specializes in custody disputes. Is your spouse a wheeler-dealer with complex assets? Then you probably need a lawyer skilled in financial analysis and finding hidden assets.  Do your research and do not blindly accept a referral. Interview several lawyers before deciding on the one you want to use. Make sure you feel comfortable in discussing the facts of your case with them and make sure the attorney you choose is a good listener and week as a skilled communicator.  If you want to participate in mediation to resolve your divorce issues, make sure that your attorney has experience in mediating successful resolutions.

2.) Failing to Produce Accurate Financial Information.

Addressing finances is an essential part of any divorce.  Compile your tax returns, bank account and credit card statements, financial statements and other similar documents.  Your lawyer will need them. Accurate financial information is critical to either negotiating or litigating a divorce case.   Incomplete disclosure of financial information can have serious legal consequences, as all divorce decrees require full disclosure and if a party fails to disclose assets, income or debts, the divorce decree can be reopened, and the non-disclosing party can face serious consequences, including paying the other party’s attorney’s fees.   Tax issues should be addressed. Are there back taxes? If so, who will pay them? What happens if there is an audit for a pre-divorce tax year? Who pays the cost of the audit? Is there indemnification for tax debt? How are Head of Household and child related tax issues addressed.  

3.) Unrealistic expectations of Spousal Maintenance.

Many divorces involve spousal maintenance, or “alimony”.  Unrealistic expectations about spousal maintenance can derail negotiations.  A spouse seeking spousal maintenance has an obligation to contribute to his/her own support if possible.  Even stay at home parents are expected to return to the work force absent special circumstances. Often, a spouse seeking spousal maintenance is expected to participate in a vocational evaluation to determine earning potential.  In determining spousal maintenance, the courts look at the standard of living the parties had during their marriage, and if possible, put both parties in similar situations after the divorce. Realistic budgets are important in any spousal maintenance determination, so be prepared to work with your attorney to prepare an accurate and reasonable budget.  Realistic budgets, and accurate income information is necessary for the negotiation or litigation of your divorce.  

4.) Unreasonable Expectations.

Parties too often err by getting wrapped up in what they believe is rightfully “theirs” – and overlook the financial and emotional cost of pursuing certain issues. Neither party should expect to feel vindicated in a divorce.  Except where children are involved, a divorce is a financial contract. Compromise is important to the resolution of any divorce.  


“The Three Worst Mistakes People Make When Getting a Divorce,” Psychology Today (March 2018). 
“7 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Divorce or Separation,” Huffington Post (October 2014).