The 5 Most Common Divorce Mistakes to Avoid When You Have Children
Divorce isn’t easy, no matter how you approach it. Essentially, you take one family and reconstruct it into two. It’s an inherently disruptive process. Still, if you avoid the most common divorce mistakes, you can minimize the disruptions and come out on the other side with a full and happy life.
Divorce Mistakes You Can Avoid
Divorce isn’t just a courtroom event. It’s a gradual process that begins the moment you decide that it’s the best option. Your actions determine how your divorce will ultimately affect your family. You have one chance to avoid these five common divorce mistakes.
1. Not Telling Your Children
Once you finalize your decision, you shouldn’t try to keep it a secret from your children. They need time to get used to the idea, just like you do. They need to know early in the process, and you need to be the one to tell them. Keeping children in the dark for too long is one of the most common divorce mistakes.
We’ve found that even if you don’t tell your child the news, they sense a change. They see by your behavior that something is different. If both parents remain in the home, they see a difference in how you interact. If one parent moves, they wonder why. If you tell a family member, friend, or neighbor, there’s a good chance the information will find its way to your children.
To avoid this divorce mistake, consider these recommendations for speaking with your children about divorce.
- Plan your conversation: Choose an appropriate time and agree with your spouse on what to say beforehand. Agree to not badmouth each other or place blame, and not just during this conversation, but throughout the whole process.
- Talk to your children together: Let your children see that you both agree with the decision.
- Reassure them as much as you can: Your children should know that you love them and that it’s not their fault. Explain the basics: what is happening, the timing, your future living arrangements, etc.
- Answer their questions: Respond to their inquiries, but don’t make promises you can’t keep. Speak to your children on their level. And don’t overshare.
2. Putting Your Children in the Middle of Your Conflict
Your children need to know about your divorce, but you should not make them parties to an ongoing battle. Family courts decide many issues based on what’s best for your child. Regardless of what’s going on, you must establish and maintain that same perspective.
- Don’t argue when your children are at home. They can still hear you even when their bedroom doors are closed or their earbuds are in.
- Spend time with your spouse working on a parenting plan. The process enables divorcing couples to cooperate and work together which is best for children.
- Find reasonable solutions for dealing with conflict—now and after the divorce is final.
3. Rejecting the Less Confrontational Divorce Processes
One of the more anxiety-producing divorce mistakes involves divorcing couples who want a judge to hear all of their grievances. They want a public declaration confirming who is right and who is wrong. This “day-in-court” scenario rarely works out the way you want it to.
If you wait to finalize your issues at a full-blown custody hearing, you’ll have no motivation to try a less contentious solution. Family law firms offer less confrontational options referred to as Alternative Dispute Resolutions. You resolve your issues and eliminate the potential for bitter courtroom drama.
- Collaborative Divorce: During a collaborative divorce, couples work through the process together. Each side selects a specially-trained lawyer who offers support and guidance whole working together to a mutually agreeable resolution. Some couples bring in experts to help find solutions. You resolve custody, property, and other issues privately and in a less aggressive setting. The hallmark of a collaborative divorce is that if either spouse decides to go to court instead of working out the details privately, both spouses must hire new lawyers. This builds in an incentive to keep the matter out of court as it is expensive, in terms of both time and money, to start over at square one.
- Mediation: A mediation brings divorcing parties and their representatives together in a neutral setting. They discuss their issues and a trained mediator facilitates negotiation and resolution of support, custody, and asset division.. Couples who are willing to mediate don’t always resolve their differences, but most of them do. . And the couples that do typically have less disagreements in the future than couples who aired all the dirty laundry in court, wanting to prove a point or fight over principle.
- Arbitration: A person is selected to listen to both sides and their witnesses and to review the evidence. The arbitrator serves the role of a private judge. In very limited circumstances, you can object to the arbitrator’s ruling in court. However, in most situations, the arbitrator’s decision is binding and will be confirmed by the court or will be put in the form of a private agreement (commonly called a Separation Agreement and Property Settlement).
- Settlement Conferences and Negotiations: Some divorcing couples are able to resolve support, custody, and asset division by having open, honest communications about the big picture and what objectives must be met to achieve a satisfactory resolution for everyone, including the children. Often divorce lawyers help facilitate these resolutions by having settlement conferences and negotiations with the other spouse and their lawyer, without the involvement of a mediator or only use a mediator to help resolve those last few issues that just cannot be worked out without help from a third party.
4. Divorcing Your In-Laws
Avoiding your ex is a preferred consequence for many people after divorce. In some situations, you probably prefer to avoid your ex’s family too. That’s not the best solution if you and your ex have children. You must remember that they’re not just your ex’s relatives, they’re your children’s relatives, too. Whether you’re a custodial or non-custodial parent, you must help your children maintain existing family ties. Consider these tips:
- Don’t encourage your children or other family members to dislike your ex or cut ties with their family.
- Don’t talk about, criticize, or blame your ex or their family for your divorce.
- Use a divorce process that doesn’t encourage angry confrontations.
5. Going Deep Into Additional Debt
As you plan for an upcoming divorce, you must accept that your finances will change. Until you adjust to your new financial situation, you should avoid taking on any new debt or obligations, if at all possible. As you establish your new “normal,” financial issues can make the transition even more stressful for both you and your children.
If you have not handled the monthly finances in your marriage or been a part of managing those finances, it can be hard to start doing that for yourself. Creating and living within a budget is a top recommendation to help ease the financial stress. Starting or maintaining an emergency fund is another top recommendation. If you feel lost in the financial world, there are lots of resources to help you, such as financial planners, classes on budgeting, and workshops on how to use tools like Excel, on-line budgeting programs, and financial software. You are not alone.
If you have shared or sole custody of your children, your children will have continuing expenses too: tuition, school transportation, uniforms, extracurricular activities, sports, etc. To the extent you can, keeping the children in their activities will help them as you all navigate the changes in their lives which divorce causes. We do not recommend going deep in debt to keep them in their activities, but we do recommend seeing if there are other trade-offs you can make in your budget before the kids’ activites are the first thing to go. And, on occasion, short-term debt can be a solution so long as you have a plan to pay it back and have that factored into your budget as well.
Avoid Divorce Mistakes
Divorce isn’t easy when you have children. When you’re ready, schedule a consultation with a skilled lawyer near you. Experienced divorce attorneys help you avoid the common divorce mistakes as you work through the process. They protect your legal rights while helping you do what’s best for you and your family.
As you separate from your spouse, you will need to take steps to divide marital debts and assets, including any property, financial assets, and investments you may have acquired throughout the marriage. The asset division process is often complicated and, in some cases, contentious. Not only that, it can be very emotional for e couples who struggle to fully separate their assets.
The asset division process includes four key steps, each of which can help you achieve an equitable division of assets in a divorce.
The first step in the asset division process is the identification stage. During the identification stage, you and your spouse must identify all property owned by either of you, including property that may not be counted as a marital asset. Make sure you take into consideration:
- Real estate
- High-value items, such as furniture or collectibles
- Financial assets, including investments
- Retirement accounts
- The contents of your bank accounts
- Other assets, like intellectual property and cryptocurrency
In addition, take a look at any marital debt, including the mortgage, vehicle loans, and credit card loans. Loans that you brought into the marriage are generally not considered marital debt.
The identification stage makes sure that you do not miss any critical assets as you arrange for the distribution of those assets during your divorce.
Once you have identified all the assets held by either you or your spouse, you will need to classify those assets.
Some of the property you own, particularly property that was gained during the marriage (with few exceptions), is considered a marital asset. Legally speaking, it does not matter whose name is on the asset or account; it belongs to both of you and will need to be assigned to one partner or the other or divided equitably. . You also need to take into account any debt acquired during your marriage and whether that debt is marital or separate.
Other pieces of property are not necessarily considered marital assets. These include assets:
- Protected by a prenuptial agreement
- Specifically gifted to one partner (for example, an inheritance that specifically named one partner, not both)
- That belonged to one partner prior to the marriage
Non-marital assets belong to the partner they have always belonged to and will not have to be assigned during the divorce.
If any of your assets have both marital and separate components, the marital portion is what will be divided.
If your marital assets grow or decline in value after you separate but before you divide them, you may have property known as “divisible” property, which will also need to be identified and classified.
Your attorney can help ensure that you properly classify all assets so that you can create an equitable division as part of the divorce, particularly if you and your former spouse cannot agree on the appropriate ownership of those assets.
In order to fairly divide your assets during your divorce, a value must be attached to each asset you own. In some cases, this may be a relatively simple process, especially if you and your former spouse are in agreement about the value of those items. On the other hand, in the case of significant assets or a considerable disconnect between your idea of the value of specific assets and your partner’s, you may need to bring in a professional to determine the value. For example, you may need to:
- Have your home appraised. Keep in mind that the home’s value may have changed substantially since you brought the property.
- Get an approximate value for any vehicles.
- Have valuable assets appraised to get a reasonable idea of their actual value. Valuable assets may include jewelry, artwork, and other potentially expensive possessions.
A complete valuation of all marital assets can make it much easier to divide your assets and ensure that you can reach an equitable division. Remember that the value of your assets is not what you want it to be or what you would pay to replace them. Value in North Carolina is based upon market value–what would someone pay to purchase your used assets.
The distribution part of the asset division process can turn contentious if both parties want the same assets, such as the house or a retirement account. In general, however, the goal of a divorce is an equitable division of assets.
Note that “equitable” does not necessarily mean equal, and both spouses may have different ideas of what makes a division equitable.
For example, in many divorces, both spouses will keep their vehicles, even if one vehicle clearly has a higher value than the other. In others, each spouse may keep the contents and benefits of their own retirement accounts, even if their accounts are not entirely equal. In both of those cases, there may be another asset that is used to offset the unequal values or the parties may agree not to “true up” the values. On the other hand, in cases where one spouse has clearly out-earned the other and has greater potential to earn future retirement, you may come to a different resolution regarding those accounts.
All marital assets and debt must be distributed, with each asset assigned to a specific individual. The individual who does not take ownership of a specific marital asset may need to sign over that asset to the other spouse, especially when it comes to accounts or expensive property. It is a very rare case that spouses continue to jointly own an asset after divorce.
A North Carolina Family Law Attorney Can Help
Asset division can be a complicated part of the divorce process. Properly dividing assets, however, is often essential to your divorce and your life after divorce. Thankfully, family law attorneys have lots of experience handling cases with many different varied assets and situations, and they can help you find the best resolution for your specific circumstances. Contact us to learn more about how to manage the asset division process during your divorce, including how to ensure equitable asset distribution.