Common Mistakes to Avoid in Divorce
In Minnesota, family law has many complex rules. Without an experienced family law attorney, a party in a divorce can easily make costly mistakes with long term consequences. Attorney Kathleen M. Newman of the DeWitt LLP Law Firm uses her 35 years of family law experience to effectively assist clients avoid mistakes and get quality outcomes.
What are some common mistakes, and some ways to avoid them?
1. Not Hiring an Attorney Experienced in Family Law
Family law has complex rules with long term impact. Hiring an attorney specifically experienced in family law is critically important. Ideally, seek a referral to a family law attorney from other professionals you trust, like therapists, accountants and financial planners. A referral from a friend who has used an attorney in their own divorce with positive results is also a good way to locate a qualified attorney. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has state by state lists of highly qualified attorneys that are members of that organization. Interview attorneys before deciding who to hire. It is best to hire an attorney that has a practice that is focused on family law, not someone who does an occasional divorce as part of a general law practice. While experience is necessary, be sure that you feel comfortable communicating with the attorney you choose, and with sharing with that attorney personal facts about your married life. Ask what the attorney’s hourly rate is, and if the attorney uses a “team approach” so that more mundane aspects of the divorce can be managed by legal assistants, paralegals or associate attorneys at a lower hourly rate.
2. Not Properly Addressing Financial Matters
Financial matters are an area ripe for potential mistakes. Accordingly, be mindful of the following:
- Fully disclose all of your financial information to your attorney. Accurate financial information is necessary to negotiate the issues in your divorce. Inaccurate financial disclosures can pose serious consequences, including the possibility your divorce decree and the award of assets, support and allocation of marital debt, may result in a request by your former spousal to reopen the case. Provide your lawyer with tax returns, bank account statements, retirement account statements, financial statements and other requested documents. Don’t hide the ball.
- Many people think that joint legal and joint physical custody and equal parenting time are mandatory. That is not true in Minnesota. Joint legal custody is presumed to be in a child’s best interest unless there has been domestic abuse. But joint legal custody requires a high degree of cooperation between parents, an issues like mental health or chemical abuse may also impact whether joint legal custody is appropriate in your case. While there is a presumption that a parent have at least 25% of time with the child, parenting time must be tailored to the circumstances of each case and must be in the child’s best interest.
- Don’t fall for the common misconception about what marital property is. For instance, parties sometimes assume they have no rights to a share of the other spouse’s retirement assets. However, marital property generally includes the retirement funds accumulated during the marriage. Similarly, don’t fall for the misconception that marital property is always equally divided. Although in Minnesota marital property is generally divided equally, there are some instances that call for an unequal division of marital assets, including a spouse having substantial non-marital property and age and health related circumstances.
- Don’t overlook the impact of an ex-spouse’s death or disability on their ability to fulfill financial obligations as set out in your divorce decree. Accordingly, it is often necessary to have life/disability insurance policies on an ex-spouse until his/her financial obligations are fully met, including payment of a cash property settlement, spousal maintenance and child support.
- You are entitled to ask your spouse to pay all or part of your attorney’s fees if you do not have the financial resources to do so, or if your spouses bad behavior increased the cost or the length of time it took to get divorced.
- While most cases in Minnesota are resolved through mediation, even mediation requires the advice of an experienced attorney. Attorneys usually attend mediation with their clients.
Attorney Kathleen M. Newman of the DeWitt LLP Law Firm has over 35 years of family law experience and is skilled at helping clients navigate the many issues in a divorce. She is a fellow in the Minnesota chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. To learn more about how Ms. Newman can assist you, please call for a consultation.
Minn. Stat. §518.58.
“Don’t Forget Life Insurance During A Divorce,” Forbes Advisor (March 27, 2020).
“Facing Divorce? 7 Common Costly Financial Mistakes To Avoid,” Forbes (Oct 25, 2018).