Insight

Split Decisions

Divorce is inevitably fraught with a torrent of emotions on both sides. Don’t let this occlude your ability to plan rationally and dispassionately to ensure as smooth a process as possible. Here are five common pitfalls to avoid.

Two people standing on either side of a heart made out of curving roads
Jonathan Merel

Jonathan Merel

December 19, 2022 12:00 AM

WHEN PEOPLE ARE eager to end their marriage, guilt, anger and loneliness will sometimes cloud their judgment and contribute to avoidable mistakes during the divorce. The process is undeniably stressful and emotionally draining, especially if you’re worried about child custody and coparenting. Even when children aren’t involved, though, a variety of financial issues can substantially affect the lifestyle both parties have grown accustomed to during their marriage.

If either spouse makes a costly error in haste or because they haven’t fully assessed their options, the consequences can linger long after the divorce is final. This is why you need to take a step back and carefully approach your split from multiple angles so you can avoid these five common mistakes, any of which will leave you dissatisfied with your outcome.

Mistake No. 1: Seeking Revenge or Acting Out

I’ve seen people caught completely off-guard when they discover their spouse has filed for divorce, and they become so angry that their resentment guides their every decision during the legal process. I’ve also met people who seriously contemplate filing for divorce with the sole purpose of inflicting as much damage as possible through the court, solely to get revenge.

When divorcing spouses act vindictively, it often leads to disruptive behavior that only prolongs the process, ultimately costing both parties time and money that could be put to far better use elsewhere. A lengthy divorce can also create more stress for children during an already difficult time.

Whether you feel like your spouse caused the rift that ended your marriage, and you desire retribution or you want to secure a specific asset you know has special meaning to them, acting out of spite usually backfires. Frustration and anger are natural but acting on these emotions instead of making rational decisions that will set you up for a better future can negatively affect your life once the marriage is dissolved.

All this is just one of the many reasons you should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as you know you’re getting divorced—or even sooner, if your marriage is in obvious turmoil. In addition to providing legal counsel, a good attorney knows how to quell clients’ emotional responses and sway them to act in a manner that will lead to better results. Talking to a therapist or family counselor can also help you control your emotions and learn useful tools for managing and improving your mental health.

When divorcing spouses act vindictively, it often leads to disruptive behavior that only prolongs the process, ultimately costing both parties time and money that could be put to far better use elsewhere. A lengthy divorce can also create more stress for children during an already difficult time."

Mistake No. 2: Failing to Create a List of Assets

In many marriages, it’s not uncommon for one spouse to have a better understanding of the couple’s finances and assets. Often, that person will know exactly how much money is in joint bank accounts and how well their investments are doing, while the other is oblivious to this information and contributes to the household and marriage in other ways. The spouse with the financial knowledge has a decided advantage here because they can cover these issues in their case strategy more quickly and thoroughly than the spouse who is out of the loop.

If you didn’t handle any of the finances, you must create an inventory of what you’ve acquired or accumulated during the marriage before attempting to split assets. This should include anything that can be considered an asset or liability—bank accounts, investment portfolios, retirement accounts, life insurance policies. Write down all the physical possessions you jointly own, too, even those you don’t necessarily want to keep.

It can be detrimental when couples decide they want to quickly divide their possessions in the early stages of the divorce, as this often leaves one spouse at a substantial disadvantage. This can be especially devastating in a high-asset divorce because the spouse with greater awareness of the finances might attempt to conceal assets or “divorce plan” to maximize their value without the other spouse knowing.

Even if you aren’t involved in a high-asset divorce, allowing your spouse to keep something seemingly minor—such as a comic book collection you helped them accumulate—so you can keep the nicer furniture or items you need to continue your hobbies, can prevent you from securing a fair share of what you’re entitled to under the law.

While you might not want to store your ex’s comic books in your new home after your divorce, some of the comics in the collection might one day be worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars. As a financial contributor to the collection, you deserve a portion of its value. To ensure an equitable outcome, spouses need to determine the current fair-market value of all their possessions.

It’s not uncommon for one spouse to have a better understanding of the couple’s finances and assets."

Mistake No. 3: Forgetting to Update Your Estate Plan

If you have an estate plan that names your spouse the executor, trustee or beneficiary of a will or trusts, you need to revise it to reflect your current wishes now that you know you’re getting divorced. If you leave it as is, your wishes won’t be carried out after you pass away, and your former spouse may inherit what you initially left for them.

You can revoke your old will and execute a new one to make sure the inheritance your spouse would have received goes to the correct beneficiary. The same goes for trusts: Create new ones to make sure your ex can’t control assets you leave for other beneficiaries.

Mistake No. 4: Disregarding Tax Implications

People often become so entwined in the emotional aspects of divorce that they forget there are tax implications to any award of marital assets. It’s vital to understand that nearly every major financial decision you make has practical consequences.

Although some transactions related to a divorce are not taxable, you should consult an accountant or financial planner to address any potential tax effects of your divorce. It’s also important to note that if an IRS audit uncovers issues with returns you and your spouse previously filed together, you’re both potentially liable for tax debt.

Spouses can get assistance with their taxes from the federal government after they divorce. To qualify, you must be legally separated or divorced and pay your taxes.

Mistake No. 5: Having Unrealistic Expectations About the Outcome

To reach an equitable divorce agreement, both spouses need to adjust their expectations. If you’re combative over every issue because you both refuse to budge, you’ll end up in a courtroom and the divorce will drag on at a high cost to both of you.

Reaching a fair agreement requires some give and take from each side. Divorcing spouses need to approach negotiations in good faith and show up intending to make proposals that will help both parties find middle ground. Do your best to be reasonable when discussing settlement terms and remember you’re not likely to get everything you want, whether it's full custody of your children or the cars or the house.

In addition to a lack of realism in negotiations, spouses often make the mistake of overlooking the fact that maintaining two households can cost more than they’re accustomed to spending. For example, you might be awarded the marital residence as you wanted; however, the financial support agreements in your settlement could mean you have less money to pay the mortgage or other expenses.

Financial planning is essential when you’re transitioning to a new lifestyle after a divorce. Spouses who fail to set financial goals or devise a concrete plan for the assets they’re awarded tend to make poor decisions after the divorce and often find themselves lacking the resources they need to maintain their desired lifestyle.

Some people also have unrealistic expectations about retaining their health insurance. This typically happens when one spouse was covered by the other’s policy. This can be a major issue if you’re over 50 and divorce before you become eligible for Medicare, which occurs at age 65. Although you can remain on your former spouse’s policy through COBRA for up to 36 months, it will likely cost much more than what you previously paid. If you don’t think you can afford to pay for a new policy without help from your spouse, consider a legal separation, under which you might be able to keep the same health insurance during the division of assets.

To reach an equitable divorce agreement, both spouses need to adjust their expectations."

Final Thoughts on Avoiding Costly Errors

Complicated procedures, tense negotiations and the hassle of simply enduring the process can lead people to make these and other costly mistakes. Divorce is never easy, but unforced errors will only compound your struggles.

Whether you know that divorce is inevitable or you were just served with papers, you need to speak with knowledgeable professionals who can assess all your legal and financial options and craft a feasible strategy that you can follow to ensure you don’t make mistakes that will hurt your future.

Jonathan Merel is the founder of the Law Offices of Jonathan Merel, P.C., a leading family law firm based in Chicago. Known as a skillful and aggressive negotiator, Jonathan is an experienced attorney who advocates for his clients in divorce and family law proceedings. His ability to settle heated divorces in multimillion-dollar marital estates and contested custody disputes has gained a great deal of respect from fellow attorneys and judges. Jonathan’s philosophy is to build trusting relationships through open and frequent communication. Founded in 2009, Merel has become a premier law firm in Chicago.

Headline Image: Adobe Stock/ freshidea

Related Articles

Family Owned and Operated


by David W. Holaday and John M. Goralka

In the era of sweeping tax reform, family businesses, particularly agricultural business, face many environmental and governmental risks. Outlined below are strategies to ensure family business survival in the face of these threats.

Man on tractor in open field

Where There’s No Will . . .


by Anthony J. Enea

. . . there’s no way for you to ensure your assets get distributed the way you would prefer. A guide to the consequences of exiting the stage without a last will and testament in New York.

Money symbol fading to dust

Divorce in a Downturn


by Jennifer Brandt

Couples who choose to end their marriage during a recession must confront a host of difficult economic questions in addition to all the financial and emotional demands inherent in any divorce.

Piggy bank broken into different sections

Ghosts of Christmas Past


by Steven M. Visioli

’Tis the season . . . for a vacation without the kids. A recommendation against sharing co-parenting holidays with your ex.

Family walking on the beach at sunset

Making a List, Checking It Twice


by Lindsay Heller

Being a separated parent with kids can add stress to the holidays. These five tips can help you navigate the season, maintain your sanity—and ensure that the focus remains on the children’s happiness.

Couple drinking glasses of wine

Confronting the Inevitable


by Theresa Jo Gaffney

It’s never easy to contemplate one’s mortality. Yet end-of-life planning is essential at any age, as I learned all too well when my husband contracted COVID-19 several months into the pandemic. The peace of mind such forethought brings is essential should the worst come to pass.

Unseen figures holding hands

What If Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Had a Premarital Agreement?


by John M. Goralka

Oh, the gritty details we’re learning from the latest court battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. This unfortunate airing of dirty laundry may have been avoided with a prenup. Should you think about getting one yourself?

What If Johnny Depp & Amber Heard Had Prenup?

IN PARTNERSHIP

7 Things to Never Do After a Car Accident


by J.L. King

The actions you take after a car accident could determine the injury compensation you stand to receive. Learn seven things to never do after a car accident.

Cartoon of person with big pencil and check list

IN PARTNERSHIP

Why You Should Hire a Car Accident Lawyer


by Bill Winters

There are many benefits to hiring a car accident lawyer. They’ll handle your claim from start to finish and ensure you recover the best possible outcome. Learn more here.

Red fire truck beside two crashed cars

IN PARTNERSHIP

Nine Factors That Determine How Much to Expect from a Car Accident Settlement


by Aaron Tillman

Learn about the factors that can impact how much to expect for a car accident settlement in Portland, including what you can do to maximize how much you receive for an injury claim.

Yellow background with black and white animation of car crash

IN PARTNERSHIP

What Will a Car Accident Lawyer Actually Do for You?


by Joshua Fogelman

Learn what a car accident lawyer can do for you after a Texas car crash, including protecting your right to receive maximum compensation for your injuries and damages.

Hands pointing to a white car that has been damaged

IN PARTNERSHIP

5 Things To Consider When Choosing a Car Accident Lawyer


by Gregg Hollander

The lawyer you choose could make the difference between a winning and losing outcome. Learn five things to consider when choosing a car accident lawyer.

Two cars crashing into each other beside judge's gavel

IN PARTNERSHIP

Should I Get a Lawyer for a Car Accident That Wasn't My Fault?


by Mark Anderson

Learn about the reasons why you need to get a lawyer for a car accident claim and how a lawyer can help you get the compensation you deserve for injuries and damages.

Girl in orange sweater grasping injured neck

IN PARTNERSHIP

The Wolf Near Wall Street


by Rebecca Blackwell

When tensions among shared real estate owners reached their tipping point, Adam Leitman Bailey P.C. stepped in and solved a modern issue with an ancient remedy.

New York Real Estate with Adam Leitman Bailey

The Evolving Reproductive Landscape


by Justin Smulison

The Supreme Court’s thunderclap Dobbs decision sent abortion policy nationwide into utterly unfamiliar terrain. The ruling also has a colossal effect on surrogates, intended parents and anyone involved in family planning given the patchwork of state laws likely to emerge. What’s a family law attorney to do?

Couple attends surrogate ultrasound

Estate Plan Implications in Divorce


by April Will and James Vedder

It’s essential that family law practitioners consult with estate planning attorneys as they guide their clients through a marital breakup. Here’s what to what to consider when there is a trust, but the parties do not trust each other.

Two figures shaking hands

Trending Articles

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in America Honorees


by Best Lawyers

Only the top 5.3% of all practicing lawyers in the U.S. were selected by their peers for inclusion in the 29th edition of The Best Lawyers in America®.

Gold strings and dots connecting to form US map

Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2023


by Best Lawyers

The third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America™ highlights the legal talent of lawyers who have been in practice less than 10 years.

Three arrows made of lines and dots on blue background

The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers proudly announces lawyers recognized in South Africa for 2023.

South African flag

Could Reign Supreme End with the Queen?


by Sara Collin

Canada is revisiting the notion of abolishing the monarchy after Queen Elizabeth II’s passing, but many Canadians and lawmakers are questioning if Canada could, should and would follow through.

Teacup on saucer over image of Queen's eye

IN PARTNERSHIP

2022: Another Banner Year


by John Fields

Block O’Toole & Murphy continues to secure some of New York’s highest results for personal injury matters.

Three men in business suits standing in office

Famous Songs Unprotected by Copyright Could Mean Royalties for Some


by Michael B. Fein

A guide to navigating copyright claims on famous songs.

Can I Sing "Happy Birthday" in Public?

Announcing the 2023 The Best Lawyers in Canada Honorees


by Best Lawyers

The Best Lawyers in Canada™ is entering its 17th edition for 2023. We highlight the elite lawyers awarded this year.

Red map of Canada with white lines and dots

Wage and Overtime Laws for Truck Drivers


by Greg Mansell

For truck drivers nationwide, underpayment and overtime violations are just the beginning of a long list of problems. Below we explore the wages you are entitled to but may not be receiving.

Truck Driver Wage and Overtime Laws in the US

What the Courts Say About Recording in the Classroom


by Christina Henagen Peer and Peter Zawadski

Students and parents are increasingly asking to use audio devices to record what's being said in the classroom. But is it legal? A recent ruling offer gives the answer to a question confusing parents and administrators alike.

Is It Legal for Students to Record Teachers?

Thirteen Years of Excellence


by Best Lawyers

For the 13th consecutive year, “Best Law Firms” has awarded the most elite and talented law firms across the country through a thorough and trusted data review process.

Red, white and blue pipes and writing on black background

The Upcycle Conundrum


by Karen Kreider Gaunt

Laudable or litigious? What you need to know about potential copyright and trademark infringement when repurposing products.

Repurposed Products and Copyright Infringemen

Choosing a Title Company: What a Seller Should Expect


by Roy D. Oppenheim

When it comes to choosing a title company, how much power exactly does a seller have?

Choosing the Title Company As Seller

Caffeine Overload and DUI Tests


by Daniel Taylor

While it might come as a surprise, the over-consumption of caffeine could trigger a false positive on a breathalyzer test.

Can Caffeine Cause You to Fail DUI Test?

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Australia.

The Best Lawyers in Australia™ 2023

Announcing the 2022 Best Lawyers® in the United States


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers listed in the 28th Edition of The Best Lawyers in America® and in the 2nd Edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in America for 2022.

2022 Best Lawyers Listings for United States

Announcing The Best Lawyers in Germany™ 2023


by Best Lawyers

The results include an elite field of top lawyers and firms from Germany.

Black, red and yellow stripes