People turn to divorce attorneys for guidance on reaching a divorce settlement. In more than 30 years in practice–whether for collaborative divorce, divorce mediation or litigation–the advice I offer often deals with what NOT to do. The top three in the what NOT to do while negotiating a divorce settlement includes:
Dating during the negotiation:
This may be the least heeded advice offered. Anecdotally speaking, I’d say that with at least 50 percent of the couples we work with that there is at least one person who has begun dating. This is not unlawful and does not legally impact the negotiation. It can, and often does, emotionally impact your spouse and this can and does impact the tenor of the negotiations. And that can add to the stress level of the negotiation and, potentially, the amount of time it takes to come to an agreement.
People are human. While it may not be in the best interest of the negotiation to date, it does happen. If you are dating, proceed with caution and heed the following advice:
Be discreet – Going to places where people you know might be seen you with your new love interest is probably not a good idea. Be selective in where you go. While the actions of two consenting adults should be your own business, if word gets back to your spouse and you think it could be upsetting, behave with that in mind.
Social media – Do not post photos of you and your new love interest on social media. As logical as this might seem, people still do this and word gets back to the spouse. Make sure to alert your new love interest of this as well. The same goes for sharing photos by text. You just never know in whose hands these things might end up.
No contact with the children – Divorce is confusing for everybody involved. Even more so for the children. You may be happier now that you are with somebody new. That doesn’t mean your children will be as well. And you can rest assured if you introduce your new s.o., it will get back to your ex. Take it from somebody who has worked with divorcing couples for a very long time—just don’t do it.
Collaborative divorce and divorce mediation can and usually does proceed faster than litigation, which can take between 18 months to several years. Yet expecting your divorce negotiation to conclude within two or three months is completely unrealistic. You can safely presume your collaborative divorce or divorce mediation will probably take between six months and a year.
I’ve had clients who entered the negotiation with a certain deadline in mind. When that deadline approached, he and his spouse grew frustrated and opted out of collaborative divorce for litigation. I recall running into that same individual a year later at the courthouse and the divorce still had not concluded.
Your divorce is like a recovery from surgery. Your best chance at the best result depends on the path you set in the early stages and staying the course. Impatience can and often does lead to setbacks, which only delays the end result.
Make unilateral decisions
This piece of advice mostly concerns couples with children, though it also has relevance to people who own property together. Simply put, don’t make any big decisions without your spouse’s knowledge.
If you’re the custodial parent, don’t change the children’s school, doctors, daycare, etc. without consulting your spouse. Also, important decisions like putting your children in counseling should be done as a joint effort with your spouse.
Some other obvious-but-not-always-to-some things you should not do without consulting your spouse include: selling the family home; making large capital improvements (e.g. bathroom remodel); or make any large purchases (e.g. buying a jet ski, new furniture, etc.). These types of purchases and decisions have a bearing on financial statements and can certainly make for frostier negotiations.
No matter what your method divorce—collaborative divorce, divorce mediation or litigation–reaching a divorce agreement is never easy or simple and requires the focus of both parties. While these three things might seem like common sense, you would be amazed how often it can occur—with almost always negative repercussions.