There are seven deadly sins or errors people going through divorce commonly commit. By avoiding these seven common mistakes, you will greatly improve the likelihood of a favorable outcome in your case.

1. Not Attempting to Reconcile.  Statistics indicate that, contrary to their expectations, most individuals do not achieve greater happiness by divorcing their spouses. Most people who stay in what they characterize as unhappy marriages report that their marriages are happy five years later. Divorce rates for second marriages are even higher than divorce rates in first marriages, indicating that divorcees are even less likely to find happiness in a second marriage than in their first marriage. Divorce is clearly warranted in certain circumstances, including cases involving significant domestic violence, substance abuse, and repeated and unrepentant infidelity. In many instances, however, the “grass-is-greener” views held by the divorce filer are simply wishful thinking. Persons contemplating divorce should work with their clergy, marriage counselors and other trusted individuals and exhaust every possible means in attempting to reconcile their marriages before filing for divorce. Divorce is a last resort.

2. Failing to Plan.  When a person determines that the marriage cannot be reconciled and resolves to file for divorce, he or she may act impulsively without proper advance planning. Gathering account statements, tax records and other vital documents may be much easier to do before the divorce is filed than after. Certain actions may be taken prior to the filing to preserve and protect assets, but after the filing, some of those same actions might constitute violations of the preliminary injunction which automatically becomes effective on the Petitioner when the case is filed and on the Respondent when that person is served with the initial divorce documents. The timing of incurring debt can even determine whether the debt is treated as joint or separate. Proper planning is critical prior to filing a divorce case.

3. Failing to Investigate.  Many divorcing individuals are so anxious to have their case concluded quickly that they fail to properly investigate the nature, extent and value of their assets. Appraisals of real estate and business interests by experienced professionals are critical tools in achieving a fair division of assets and debts. In cases involving child custody issues, seeking drug testing of a parent suspected of using illegal drugs may “make or break” the case. Failure to conduct proper investigation, or discovery, prior to finalizing a divorce is a critical error divorce litigants should make every effort to avoid.

4. Fighting Over the Small Stuff.  With the highly charged emotions that are present in many divorce cases, husbands and wives sometimes find themselves arguing over pots and pans, who gets the old fridge in the garage, or who gets to have little Johnny for the first Halloween that will follow the divorce. When this happens, it is invariably because one or both spouses have become focused on winning rather than on finding a solution which is financially fair and, if applicable, in their child(ren)’s best interests. Sadly, some misguided divorce litigants may actually end up spending more money paying their lawyers to fight than the property they are fighting over is worth. A wise divorce litigant will approach the financial aspects of the case as a business transaction and perform his or her own cost-benefit analysis (i.e., does the amount or value of the item in dispute justify the financial and other costs I will incur to fight over it?).

5. Not Mediating.  Divorce cases are finalized either by agreement or by judicial decision following a court trial. Many divorcing parties fail to attempt mediation. They are so engaged in the fight that they simply forge ahead toward a court trial without considering alternative means to resolve their disputes, such as mediation. The financial cost savings of a successful mediation is usually measured in the tens of thousands of dollars. The time and emotional savings of a successful mediation don’t have a price tag.

6. Failing to Document.  When a divorcing husband and wife are able to successfully reach an agreement for settlement of the issues in their divorce case, they sometimes feel such a sense of relief and renewed goodwill toward one another that they fail to properly document their agreements. On the heels of a successful negotiation, each may feel that the other will honor his word and that all the details do not need to be included in the settlement documents. This can be a catastrophic mistake. Seizing the opportunity to draft a thorough consent decree of dissolution of marriage, property settlement agreement and parenting plan is imperative to properly wrap up the case.

7. Choosing Not to Hire an Attorney.  Although some simple, uncontested cases can be fairly resolved without a lawyer’s help, husbands and wives would be well-advised to at least consult with an attorney at the beginning and the end of their case. In divorces involving significant assets, spousal maintenance disputes, or questions of child custody and child support, good legal representation is a must.

If you are about to go through a divorce or are already in the midst of one, avoid these seven deadly sins to successfully make your way through this difficult process.

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© 2010 J. Kyle Scoresby, P.C. All rights reserved.

You can also watch my video on the seven deadly sins below.