When a person is in the middle of an emotional time, it can be difficult to make good, long-term decisions. A divorce is the very definition of an emotional time, and plenty of divorced people have lived to regret decisions made in the heat of the moment, or hasty decisions made simply to put an end to contentiousness. While both men and women can make mistakes which come back to haunt them during a divorce, the following mistakes are those most commonly made by divorcing men:
- Believing your wife will be equally responsible for the marital debts. Florida is an equitable distribution state as opposed to a community property state. Community property states divide marital assets and debts right down the middle, while equitable distribution states, in theory, divide assets and debts “fairly.” If a divorcing couple is unable to reach an agreement regarding the division of assets and debts, a judge will make those decisions for them. The judge can make an unequal division after considering relevant circumstances, including:
- How long the marriage has lasted;
- The overall economic circumstances of each spouse;
- Whether the minor children and/or one spouse will continue to live in the marital home;
- The contributions of each spouse during the marriage, both as income-earners and as a parent and/or homemaker;
- Whether one spouse’s career or education was interrupted in order to further the career or education of the other;
- The debts and liabilities of each spouse, and
- Whether there was any dissipation of assets on the part of either spouse.
Debts are also assigned “fairly,” and if the court believes one spouse spent money recklessly, then the court might assign all that debt to the reckless spouse. So…your debts might or might not be split right down the middle, but don’t assume that will happen.
- Believing an inheritance you receive is only yours. Inheritances and other forms of separate property can be tricky during a divorce. While you may believe any inheritance you receive either prior to your marriage or during your marriage remains yours alone, this may not be the case. Assume you received a home on the beach from your Aunt Jane before you were married. If you added your wife’s name to the title during your marriage, then that beach house becomes a marital asset, to be divided. If you didn’t add your wife’s name to the title, but you used marital funds to make repairs to the beach house, then a portion of the house may be considered marital property. If your father left you $50,000 during your marriage and you put the money in your joint bank account, it becomes a marital asset to be divided during the divorce. If, however, you put the money in a separate account in your name only, and don’t add any money considered “marital money” to the account, then it will remain yours alone during the divorce. In other words, if you commingle your inheritance in any way during your marriage, it becomes a marital asset.
- Believing your car is yours and her car is hers. If you happen to drive a $60,000 vehicle while your wife drives a $20,000 minivan, don’t make the mistake of thinking you will both walk away with “your” cars. In fact, no matter how much you love your vehicle, you may either have to give your wife enough other assets to offset the difference between your vehicle’s value and hers, or you will have to sell the car and give her $20,000 and her minivan. Any other possessions you have always considered “yours,” such as a boat, your $2,000 golf clubs, or the painting you bought (which she always hated) at an art auction, will be divided in the same way. All assets will be valued, then divided as fairly as possible, so don’t automatically assume you will be awarded “your” possessions.
- Believing you can “trade” her the $50,000 bank account in return for your retirement fund. Even if the bank account and the retirement account have approximately the same balance on paper, this does not necessarily mean they have the same value. Remember, that to the extent you are able to access your retirement account, that access comes with withdrawal penalties and tax consequences. There may also be other hidden costs associated with a retirement fund withdrawal. It will take a financial expert to determine what the actual value of the retirement fund is, so don’t swap assets without getting that expert advice.
- Believing your wife is entitled to all the household items. You may think—or you may have been told by your wife—that the household items are hers. After all, she did most of the cooking and cleaning, you think, so maybe that’s fair. Not so quick! Couples who have been married for a considerable length of time have accumulated thousands of dollars’ worth of household items. Assuming you are going to rent or buy another home, you will be starting from scratch, buying dishes, sheets, towels, furniture, computers, entertainment centers, pots and pans…the list is virtually endless. Rather than hand over all the household items to your wife, have the contents of your home appraised so the value will be taken into account during the asset division. You might just get to keep the vehicle you love if you can show the household items are worth $40,000.
- Believing if you give her the marital home, she will be responsible for the monthly mortgage. If giving your wife the marital home is a part of your division of assets, don’t just leave it at that. Insist that she refinance the home on her own so your name is no longer on the mortgage. Otherwise, even if the house is awarded to your wife during the divorce, your liability to the mortgage company remains. This means if your wife misses a mortgage payment—or two or three—you will also be receiving collections letters and calls and potentially even a lawsuit.
- Believing sharing an attorney during the divorce is a good idea, and a great way to save money. If this thought crosses your mind for even a second, tell yourself “No, no, no!” Sharing an attorney with your wife, no matter how “friendly” your divorce seems to be, is never a good idea. You need your own attorney who is 100 percent on your side, protecting your rights and your interests, when you may be too emotional to do so. Further, if your originally “friendly” divorce turns ugly, you need your attorney who can talk to her attorney, when the two of you are unable to talk to one another.
- Becoming vengeful during the property division. While you certainly don’t want to be taken advantage of during the division of assets, neither do you need to argue incessantly over who gets the dining room table. As an example, suppose your wife really loves the copper pots and pans the two of you bought the first year of your marriage. Deep down, you really don’t care one way or the other about the copper pans, but because you know she wants them you claim to want them also. Being vengeful with asset division just for the sake of being vengeful, won’t be beneficial to anyone. There is a story about a couple who argued for nearly two years over who would get the ceramic yard owl. The owl was worth maybe $50, yet the couple spent thousands on attorneys arguing about who would get the owl. No matter how rotten your wife treated you, don’t be vengeful with your assets, because nobody will win.
- Failing to take your wife seriously when she mentions divorce. Countless men have been blindsided when they were served with divorce papers. Yes, she mentioned divorce but you simply didn’t think she would actually follow through. When you don’t take threats of divorce seriously enough, you can wind up at a distinct disadvantage during the divorce. While she has had time to speak to an attorney and make decisions about what she wants as far as child custody and asset divisions, you are left stunned, with little idea how to proceed. It is important that you have time to do your own research and make your own plans, so if she says she wants a divorce, take those words seriously.
- Moving out of the marital home once she tells you she wants a divorce. So many men make this mistake, and while it is understandable that you might want to distance yourself from a volatile situation, it could make it very difficult to maintain interaction with your children if you are living somewhere else. Further, moving out of the home might be deemed “abandonment,” giving your wife a distinct advantage in child custody and asset division negotiations. Talk to an attorney before you decide to move out. If possible, move into another room in the marital home, and try your best to avoid your wife if interactions between the two of you are mostly contentious. While avoiding those interactions, make sure you make every effort to continue being a father to your children, as this could be extremely important during child custody decisions.
- Withholding crucial information from your attorney. It is extremely important that you give your attorney every single detail. Don’t feel as though your attorney will judge you—family law attorneys have heard and seen literally everything, and just want to ensure you get the things you want out of your divorce. If your attorney doesn’t have all the facts, however, he or she is handicapped in representing you, and usually those “hidden” issues come out one way or another. It is much better to be honest with your attorney right from the start, allowing him or her to represent you aggressively and knowledgeably.
- Revealing too much about your situation to others or on social media. While you can—and should—give all the details to your attorney, it should end there until your divorce is final. Talking to mutual friends could lead to your wife knowing your strategies ahead of time. Posting about your divorce or posting about your “single” life on social media could be used against you during the divorce. More and more often Facebook and Twitter accounts are being presented as evidence during a divorce. You may have innocently posted a photo of you at a friend’s party, where alcoholic drinks were clearly visible. Your wife could use this against you during a custody hearing, telling the judge you party and drink all the time, therefore shouldn’t have custody of the children.
- Failing to keep meticulous financial records. If you were not the person who primarily took care of the marital finances, you may not be up to speed on what the two of you actually own, and what you owe. Finding yourself without records of your finances could be costly for you, forcing you to give up more assets than necessary. Make sure you have copies of bank records, at least for the past two years, as well as copies of your tax returns, credit card bills, and mortgage information. If you don’t know what you have, then you are unlikely to get what you deserve.
- Failing to respond to legal paperwork. This may be the most common mistake made by men during a divorce. You are required to respond to any and all legal actions. A fairly large percentage of divorce judgments are garnered through default—meaning the person served with the paperwork (usually the husband) simply did not respond. Family law courts tend to be pretty unforgiving, therefore failure on your part to respond equals a loss of assets or child custody and visitation. If you don’t respond, the court will assume you don’t care, and will make their judgment accordingly.
Divorces can get ugly, and it is all too easy to make mistakes, especially in the beginning, or when your spouse is manipulative or irrational. Even if your divorce is more or less friendly, this is an emotional time and it can be difficult to think clearly and make the best decisions for your future. The very best decision you can make during this time is to hire a Ayo and Iken family law attorney, who will work hard to protect your rights.