Building a life with another person is hard. It requires years of healthy communication and compromise, — and that’s when two people want to be together. When two people decide, for whatever reason, that they’re better off going their separate ways and getting a divorce, dividing that life up can be even more challenging.
Divorce is never a simple, cut-and-dried affair, especially if children are involved. Negotiations can become contentious, and tempers inflamed. Disputes and disagreements over custody, the dispensation of property, and all the other details that go into separating lives that have been intimately entwined can make even the most patient person lose their cool.
During a contentious divorce, one spouse may be tempted to hurt, embarrass, or manipulate the other to get the most out of the divorce settlement. Or it could just be plain old spite or revenge.
Whatever the reason, there are underhanded tactics your soon-to-be ex may try to implement. If you’re concerned your divorce could take a nasty turn, or you’re trying to negotiate a divorce with a narcissist, these are a few sneaky divorce tactics you should be prepared for.
1. Filing A Restraining Order
Restraining orders, on the whole, can be very beneficial in divorces where abuse or harassment is a factor. But, because there are bad actors in the world, orders of protection can also be manipulated and used in nefarious ways during divorces where safety is not a concern.
If one spouse files for a temporary order of protection against the other, the spouse against whom the order is filed is required to move out of the marital home immediately, they are not allowed to see the other spouse or the children, they may be forced to relinquish firearms, or they may be required to take a drug test.
Plus, if filed early, a temporary order of protection sets the stage for the entire divorce proceeding. When filed wrongfully, a restraining order could give the court a false perception of the spouse and skew things in favor of the spouse who filed for protection.
According to Raiford Dalton Palmer, Chicago-based divorce attorney and author of I Just Want This Done, when this tactic is used unfairly, it’s most frequently when one spouse tries to get a leg up in a custody case.
“Maybe they've got family that will say stuff [the spouse] wants them to say about the other person being bad, or there might be a history of somewhat poor behavior by the other parent, but it doesn't rise to the level of abuse,” Palmer explained. “And they're just sort of trying to manufacture a custody case by kicking it off with an order of protection.”
If this happens, remember that it’s only temporary. The case will be heard within a few weeks of the date the order of protection was filed, and all parties will have the right to be heard in front of a judge. If the court decides safety is not a factor or that the order was otherwise bogus, the order will be lifted or modified.
2. Hiding Or Transferring Assets
In some divorces, one spouse might attempt to trick the court into believing they don’t have as many assets or as much income as they do. This could be in an attempt to get more support from the other spouse or, conversely, not have to pay as much support to the other spouse.
Both spouses are required to disclose all their assets: bank accounts, investment portfolios, property, valuables, and even cash assets that may be kept at home or in a safe deposit box.
Hiding assets can take several forms — transferring property or bank accounts to someone else’s name, omitting cash savings, not disclosing account information, or making large purchases in another person’s name — and it’s all against the rules.
If you think your spouse is purposefully hiding assets, the court will almost certainly be able to track them down following the electronic trail of withdrawals, transfers, or receipts.
3. False Abuse Allegations
Making false allegations of abuse is a nasty trick some people use to help manipulate the court into a more beneficial financial or custody arrangement. Domestic abuse, whether physical, emotional, or financial, is a very real, very insidious, and very traumatic problem. Unfortunately, there are always bad actors who might make false allegations to help pad their case.
In situations where abuse allegations are made, it’s vital that you are honest with your attorney. False allegations not only make it more difficult for the court to come to a fair and accurate decision, but they also make it more difficult for legitimate abuse survivors to get the help and justice they deserve.
4. Intentional Parental Alienation
Before the court reaches a decision regarding custody, one parent might intentionally alienate the other parent from their children. This can be accomplished by bad-mouthing or otherwise intimating that the other parent is responsible for the divorce or somehow negligent or just a bad person or by purposefully and maliciously decreasing the amount of time the children spend with the other parent to manipulate the court into believing that the children are better off with less visitation.
This tactic is not only damaging to the case but, more importantly, to the children. Be sure to maintain open and honest communication with the kids and if you feel like your spouse is attempting to manipulate the arrangement or turn your kids against you, let your attorney know so they can advise you regarding the next steps.
5. Intentional Delays
Drawing out divorce proceedings might not seem like a sneaky or underhanded tactic, but remember that divorce costs money, and, as the adage goes, “time is money.” If you feel like your spouse is intentionally drawing things out, it might be with the goal of exerting financial pressure so you’ll accede to their demands to avoid the financial strain of paying for legal counsel and all the other financial obligations that go along with getting a divorce.
6. Quitting a Job to Avoid Child Support
Quitting a job to avoid paying support is a form of financial abuse and should be reported to your attorney immediately. Not only is it damaging for the children, it’s actually a pretty stupid move.
“If they voluntarily quit the court can hold them to the previous income,” explained Palmer. “It's called voluntary underemployment.”
“The court is smarter than that,” he continued. “The court says, ‘Not so fast.’ The term is ‘imputed income’, which basically means the court is going to say, ‘Look, you quit the job just out of spite. You didn’t need to quit; you voluntarily took a job making less money, so we're going to pretend you're still making the money you made before, and you're going to keep paying support at the previous level.’”
Getting divorced is one of the most stressful things a person can go through, and unfortunately, it can be made worse when devious or malicious tactics are employed in an attempt to get the upper hand. The courts, however, aren’t stupid, as Palmer explained, and in most cases, any attempts to entrap, lie, or otherwise manipulate the court will be identified and dealt with.
Maintaining open communication with your attorney and being honest with the court about every aspect of the divorce is vital. Keeping a level-headed, calm approach, regardless of what is thrown at you, will go a long way in your favor.