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


How To Find a Good Divorce Lawyer

by Best Lawyers

To navigate a divorce, which is inherently a complex legal landscape, finding the right divorce lawyer can make all the difference in the outcome of any case.

Bride and groom figurines on top of a wedding cake


How to Protect Your Inheritance from Divorce in Ontario

by Usman Sadiq

One lawyer in Canada explains that, although division of assets does not always have to be evenly split, it should be fair, and inheritance is no exception.

Small grey house with red roof under large red umbrella on blue background

The Advantages of Collaborative Divorce for Families

by Best Lawyers

Collaborative divorce is a cooperative alternative to a possibly contentious, court-focused divorce process. Learn more about collaborative divorce here.

Silhouetted figures split down the middle with child in backdrop

The Top 7 Things to Know Before Filing for Divorce

by Best Lawyers

Consulting with a qualified divorce attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations when filing for divorce. Here are 7 things you should know.

Two golden wedding bands with a crack down the middle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

Marriage, Mortgages, and Millennials

by Angelica Rolong Cormier

More and more couples nowadays are cohabitating before marriage. But how does reimbursement claims work if a divorce happens?

Reimbursement Claims for Properties During a

Common Mistakes Made in a High Net Worth Divorce

by Stann W. Givens

If you are currently going through a high net worth divorce, you need to take care to not let your emotions get the best of you and push you to make a potentially terrible decision that seriously affects your future.

High Net Worth Divorce

Learning about Your Finances in Divorce

by Kathleen Ann Hogan

Finances in Divorce


Protecting Patients, Families and the Public

by Justin Smulison

Thousands of patients experience unfathomable pain while being treated. Some turn to Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder PC for justice, empathic counsel and results.

Group of lawyers gathering for a firm photo

"Lawyer of the Year"

Thomas B. Mooney

Thomas B. Mooney

Education Law

Hartford, CT


Trending Articles

The 2024 Best Lawyers in Spain™

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is honored to announce the 16th edition of The Best Lawyers in Spain™ and the third edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Spain™ for 2024.

Tall buildings and rushing traffic against clouds and sun in sky

Best Lawyers Expands Chilean 2024 Awards

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is pleased to announce the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Chile™ and the inaugural edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Chile™, honoring the top lawyers and firms conferred on by their Chilean peers.

Landscape of city in Chile

Best Lawyers Expands 2024 Brazilian Awards

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is honored to announce the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Brazil™ and the first edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Brazil™.

Image of Brazil city and water from sky

Announcing The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the landmark 15th edition of The Best Lawyers in South Africa™ for 2024, including the exclusive "Law Firm of the Year" awards.

Sky view of South Africa town and waterways

The Best Lawyers in Mexico Celebrates a Milestone Year

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the 15th edition of The Best Lawyers in Mexico™ and the second edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Mexico™ for 2024.

Sky view of Mexico city scape

How Palworld Is Testing the Limits of Nintendo’s Legal Power

by Gregory Sirico

Many are calling the new game Palworld “Pokémon GO with guns,” noting the games striking similarities. Experts speculate how Nintendo could take legal action.

Animated figures with guns stand on top of creatures

The Best Lawyers in Portugal™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

The 2024 awards for Portugal include the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Portugal™ and 2nd edition of Best Lawyers: Ones to Watch in Portugal™.

City and beach with green water and blue sky

The Best Lawyers in Peru™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is excited to announce the landmark 10th edition of The Best Lawyers in Peru, the prestigious award recognizing the country's lop legal talent.

Landscape of Peru city with cliffside and ocean

How To Find A Pro Bono Lawyer

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers dives into the vital role pro bono lawyers play in ensuring access to justice for all and the transformative impact they have on communities.

Hands joined around a table with phone, paper, pen and glasses

Presenting the 2024 Best Lawyers Family Law Legal Guide

by Best Lawyers

The 2024 Best Lawyers Family Law Legal Guide is now live and includes recognitions for all Best Lawyers family law awards. Read below and explore the legal guide.

Man entering home and hugging two children in doorway

The Best Lawyers in Colombia™ 2024

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is honored to announce the 14th edition of The Best Lawyers in Colombia™ for 2024, which honors Colombia's most esteemed lawyers and law firms.

Cityscape of Colombia with blue cloudy sky above

Announcing the 2024 Best Lawyers in Puerto Rico™

by Best Lawyers

Best Lawyers is proud to announce the 11th edition of The Best Lawyers in Puerto Rico™, honoring the top lawyers and firms across the country for 2024.

View of Puerto Rico city from the ocean

Canada Makes First Foray Into AI Regulation

by Sara Collin

As Artificial Intelligence continues to rise in use and popularity, many countries are working to ensure proper regulation. Canada has just made its first foray into AI regulation.

People standing in front of large, green pixelated image of buildings

Commingling Assets

by Tamires M. Oliveira

Commingling alone does not automatically turn an otherwise immune asset into an asset subject to marital distribution as explained by one family law lawyer.

Toy house and figure of married couple standing on stacks of coins

How To Check a Lawyer's Reputation

by Best Lawyers

If you find yourself facing legal issues, researching and hiring a lawyer with a solid track record and high level of credibility can make all the difference.

Figure holding a magnify glass over digital profile

What Is a Retainer Fee for a Lawyer?

by Best Lawyers

In this article, Best Lawyers breaks down exactly what a retainer fee is, why lawyers utilize them and what clients should expect when seeking legal guidance.

Two animated hands exchange money and contracts