Divorce is unpleasant. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The surprising part is just how many things people can do to make the experience even more unpleasant. During divorce proceedings, especially when meeting with the attorney, couples, either because of stubbornness, spite, or sheer stupidity, make key errors that can lose them points with their lawyers and potentially cost them big in court.
“The best possible version of you is absolutely what you want to bring to the proceedings of a divorce,” says James Sexton, a divorce and family lawyer and the author of If You’re in My Office, It’s Already Too Late. “You want to bring the rational side of you. You want to bring the side of you that sees the long term.” To help you prepare for divorce proceedings, here are some common mistakes others have made in divorce proceedings that you should take care to avoid.
Not Thinking Ahead
Once the divorce papers are signed, there’s a tendency to think, “I’m free!” and separate yourself from your ex as fast as possible. Approaching a divorce that way is shortsighted, says Sexton, as chances are this is a person who will be in your life in one way or another for good, especially when kids are involved. “The biggest mistake that people make is that they forget that this is a person that they’re going to have some connection to for many years,” he says. “They stay focused on what’s going on in that moment and they don’t think about the fact that they’re going to have grandchildren with this person.”
Venting to Your Attorney
With emotions running high, sometimes people caught up in divorce will come into their attorney’s office and blow off all of the steam that has been building in the past week. This is not a wise move, as lawyers are paid by the hour, and taking up time in their office ranting about your ex will only eat into that time and end up costing you money. Keep the meetings focused to just what is happening in the divorce and save the venting for someone else. “I think people can mistake their lawyer for their therapist,” says Sexton, “and they think that they should vent to their attorney which, very often, financially, is not a smart thing to do.”
Thinking Only About Yourself
Depending on the circumstances of a divorce, there might be a sense of wanting to “get back” at your ex. Or, at the very least, get as much as you can, no matter what the consequences are for your former spouse. However, assuming that what’s good for you must automatically be bad for your ex is not always true. “I often tell people that divorce is like a knife fight in a closet,” says Sexton. “And your kids are in the closet, and everything you love and care about, all your material goods, are all in that closet. And you need to realize that. The Dalai Lama once said getting mad at someone is like reaching into hot coals to throw them at someone. And that’s how divorces very often are. You may or may not hurt your spouse, but you’ll definitely hurt yourself.”
Lying to Your Attorney
This might sound impossibly stupid, but it does happen. From concealing bad habits to lying about relationships and even trying to cover up financial information, people will very often try and keep information from their lawyer. “That’s just silly,” says Sexton. “It’s like lying to your doctor. If your doctor says ‘Do you smoke?’ and go ‘No!’ because you don’t want to admit it, that’s just ridiculous. Because my whole job is to protect you. Just be honest with your lawyer. There’s no reason not to be.” However, just as bad as lying is…
Omitting the Whole Truth
So maybe you haven’t outright lied to your divorce lawyer, but have you told them everything? Even white lies can be damaging, because it’s keeping your attorney from getting the best picture of you and your marriage that he or she can. “The only thing I have to sell is advice and experience,” says Sexton. “If you give me inaccurate or incomplete information, I’m giving you advice about a person that doesn’t exist. About a fictional character. So it makes a lot of sense to be candid with your divorce lawyer.”
Being Stupid on Social Media
Once separated, there are some people who take it as a license to party and, more damning, share the details of that party all over social media. From drunken pictures to sexual or inappropriate comments, poorly thought out social media posts can rankle your lawyer and hurt you in the courtroom. “I encourage people not to do things like that,” says Sexton. “But people very often don’t listen. People aren’t terribly sophisticated when it comes to that stuff. They just don’t think it through. And so, no matter how many times you tell them, ‘Hey, don’t put this on social media, don’t put pictures of yourself drinking on social media,’ there’s nothing you can do about it. People are still going to make those kinds of mistakes.”