Some have likened divorce to the psychological equivalent of a triple bypass—painful, complicated, and with a difficult recovery period. Because many of those who go through a divorce are in an intensely emotional state, mistakes can be made—in some cases, devastating, long-lasting, eternally regrettable mistakes. While both genders make mistakes during a divorce, the mistakes made by women tend to primarily involve financial issues.
In particular, older women who may have had little to do with the marital finances over the years, can be hit hard financially by a divorce. If the divorce was totally unexpected, those women may come out of the divorce on the short side of the asset division, with no way to make a living. If you are contemplating a divorce, or have been blindsided with divorce papers, it could be beneficial for you to take a look at these common mistakes made by many women during a divorce:
- Having no clue about marital finances. Far too many women go into a divorce with absolutely no idea of their assets and debts. This lack of knowledge can be taken advantage of by an unscrupulous husband who is fully aware his wife doesn’t really know what level of marital assets actually exist. The wife may have spent the past decade or so being a homemaker—ensuring the lives of her husband and children run smoothly from day-to-day—and ignoring bank statements, credit card debt, tax returns and retirement accounts. If you are the spouse filing for divorce, or if you have some indication that your husband is planning to file for divorce, make it your top priority to know where you stand financially by doing the following:
- Make copies of bank statements or download them to a secure file.
- If your husband refuses to provide you with joint tax returns, contact the IRS and get copies.
- Credit card statements are equally important so you will know whether your husband ran up debt on joint credit cards immediately before filing for divorce.
- Make sure you have access to enough money to hire your own attorney and for any other expenses you will be responsible for until the assets are divided.
- Know about financial issues such as life insurance, retirement accounts, stock options, and even country club memberships.
- Not knowing the difference between separate and marital property. Since Florida is an equitable distribution state, marital property will be divided “fairly.” Anything you or your husband owned prior to the marriage—which has not been commingled with marital assets—is typically considered separate property. Your engagement ring is usually considered separate property, however gifts between spouses are usually considered marital property.
- Failing to think “long–term” during the asset division. If the divorce settlement is contentious, women are more likely to give up their fair share of the assets simply to avoid conflict and move on. The mentality may be something like “There are more important things in life than money.” This is a very risky state of mind, and you will almost certainly regret walking away from your share of the marital assets down the road when you are barely scraping by financially. As difficult as the division of marital assets can be, this is the time to dig in your heels and evaluate how your divorce settlement options may affect your future financial security. You have one shot at getting it right, so do the hard work now to make the best choice for your future.
- Failing to “insure” child support or spousal support payments. Once you have successfully negotiated your child support or spousal support payments, don’t stop there. Make sure your ex has a life insurance policy which would cover the present value of your future support payments, negotiate a transfer of the policy ownership to you. Being named beneficiary may not be enough to safeguard your future child and spousal support payments. If your spouse will not agree to transfer policy ownership, at the very least ensure you will remain beneficiary as long as the support order is in place, and that you will be notified if there is a lapse of payment for the premiums.
- Failing to realize your standard of living may change. Women in particular are likely to suffer a serious change in standard of living and if you are not realistic about this change, you may suffer even more. Typically, male incomes rise by at least a third following a divorce, while the income of women generally takes a nosedive, leaving her to struggle for years. According to the Institute for Social and Economic Research, regardless of whether a woman has children or not, her income following a divorce will fall by at least a fifth, remaining lower for many years. Do your best to live below your means, keeping a healthy savings account for emergencies.
- Using the kids to get back at your ex. This is a mistake that all mothers should avoid at all costs. The problem with using your children to extract revenge on your ex is that the children are the ones who end up being hurt. Making it as difficult as possible for your children’s father to spend time with them may hurt your ex, but in the end it will hurt your children far more. Children need both parents, so do your best to keep your feelings about your ex apart from your dealings with him as a parent to your children.
- Letting your emotions make your decisions. Even if you were aware your relationship was on the rocks, and even if you were the one who instigated the divorce, there is disappointment in ending a marriage. When you let your emotions run rampant, particularly when you allow your desire for revenge to get in the way of making a new life for yourself, you can end up paying for those emotions for a very long time to come. Not only will you probably not get the best financial settlement, you will also find it more difficult to reimagine your life.
- Not being realistic about the costs associated with child care. Far too often women fail to factor in all the costs associated with their children which may now be primarily their responsibility. Even with child support, these expenses may not be covered, so when you sit down to determine child support make sure you include daycare expenses, health care, education, clothing and costs for extra-curricular sports and other lessons.
- Letting your husband talk you into sharing an attorney, or doing without an attorney entirely. Some husbands will convince their wife that it will be much easier to just meet at the coffee shop and work out the asset division, child custody and support between themselves. The husband will persuasively convince his wife that leaving attorneys out of the mix will not only be cheaper, it will be much quicker. Once he has convinced her of this, the goal will be to get her to settle for far less than she is entitled to. If the wife is unaware of the couple’s financial position, this is even easier. Even if you think your divorce is going to be friendly and easy, you need an attorney—and you need your own attorney—to ensure your rights are protected. Your attorney knows what to look for and what to watch out for, and can guide you through your divorce with the least amount of drama while still ensuring you get the settlement you deserve.
- Thinking your husband will be penalized financially for bad behavior during the marriage, such as adultery. In an age of no-fault divorce, no matter how badly your husband has behaved during the marriage, that bad behavior will not translate into more marital assets being awarded to you. In fact, unless your husband is found to have dissipated marital assets, the judge will neither care about the bad behavior, nor try to “punish” your husband for that behavior. If, however, your husband used marital assets to fund his bad behaviors—say he bought expensive gifts for his mistress, or spent your entire savings at the track—then you may be entitled to extra assets to offset those expenditures. You will have to prove your husband is guilty of dissipation of marital assets before the judge will award you a larger portion, so this is another reason to make sure you have access to credit card receipts and bank statements.
- Thinking that because he wanted the divorce you should get a larger share of the assets, particularly the marital home. First, it doesn’t matter who wanted the divorce when the judge is determining how to divide your assets. Even if you believe you are entitled to more assets, including the marital home, because he completely destroyed your life, be assured the judge will not see it that way. Women often want to stay in the marital home because they want to disrupt their children’s lives as little as possible under the circumstances. Before you jump at the chance to keep the home make sure you have all the information. How much is the mortgage? Can you afford the mortgage, the taxes, the maintenance? Is staying in the house you shared really going to allow you to move forward? Perhaps you can find a place for you and your children which will allow them to stay in their school and keep their friends. Just because it is easier to stay in your home, may not mean it is the best choice.
- Engaging with an ex more than necessary. Unless your divorce truly is the friendliest divorce in the universe, try your best to avoid talking to your husband about the impending divorce any more than necessary. That is why you have an attorney. Your attorney is not emotional about your divorce, therefore is able to discuss the details in a more rational manner. Especially if you have children, you will need to save your interactions for those which are necessary to childcare issues. If there is something you feel you must say, do so in an email, but make sure after you write the email you let it sit for a couple of days then reread it and see if you still want to send it. If you doubt your ability to be objective, let your attorney read your email draft before you send it.
- Continuing to use your ex as your “go to” person. If your car breaks down call Triple A, then call a mechanic, rather than your ex. If your refrigerator is on the blink, call a refrigerator repair person, rather than your ex. Even if your husband was the one in your relationship who took care of repairs, that is no longer the deal. You need to learn to handle these issues on your own, no matter how distressing it may be.
- Failing to seek rehabilitative spousal support. Perhaps you spent many years working so your spouse could finish college. Or, perhaps you spent many years taking care of your home, your children and your spouse, only to find you now have no marketable job skills. If you need additional training or education to secure a well-paying job, don’t be hesitant about asking for spousal support. Rehabilitative spousal support is usually short-term, but it can make a huge difference in your ability to re-enter the workplace.
- Not being aware of your rights during the divorce. It is essential that you speak frankly with your divorce attorney, then listen carefully to his or her advice. Barring any unusual circumstances, you are entitled to an equitable portion of the marital assets. Depending on the length of your marriage and your situation, you may be entitled to spousal support. Don’t give up important rights just because you don’t know what you are entitled to.
If you are going through a divorce, the very best thing you can do is to seek the highly experienced legal counsel of an Ayo and Iken attorney. You need an attorney who will be looking out for your best interests while you are taking the time you need to heal and start a new life.