Ask the Expert: How Do I Avoid Costly Divorce Mistakes?
How to make divorce as quick and painless as possible.
If you have to get divorced, you want it to be swift, painless, and as effective as possible for you and your children. In reaching these goals, there is simply no room for error.
But given the complexity of the divorce process, and the need to navigate it when your emotions may be running sky high, it’s all too easy to make costly and time-consuming mistakes. When it comes to safeguarding your rights, children and your future, even a simple paperwork oversight can set the stage for a divorce settlement that could devastate you for years to come.
Are you about to make a misstep? In this article, divorce expert Bari Weinberger takes you through some of the costly mistakes made in divorce — and how to avoid them.
Mistake: Viewing sole custody of the children as the only option
New Jersey family law is gender-neutral when it comes to parenting time and custody, meaning both parents have rights to their kids. Generally, the courts believe that it is in a child’s best interest to spend time with both his or her parents and typically favor shared custody arrangements whenever possible, unless there are specific reasons otherwise.
Parents often make the mistake of fighting tooth and nail for sole custody in divorce because they are angry with their ex and do not want them to have time with the children. In most situations, this can be an unrealistic position and will lead to an emotionally and financially costly court battle that is unlikely to be won.
Before you make any decisions, take the time to understand what types of custody there are and what they entail. You may find that after discussing the custody options with a qualified family law attorney that other arrangements are available that give you ample time with your child and help you transition to co-parenting in a peaceful way.
Mistake: Not considering all your options when it comes to the family home.
Some divorcing parents dig in about keeping the family home because they don’t want more change for their children. Others are emotionally attached to their home because they have invested so much time and work in it over the years.
Before deciding to fight for taking over sole ownership of the home, however, carefully consider how you will be able to financially manage not only the mortgage on a single budget, but also the upkeep and maintenance of the house. What if the roof leaks or the boiler stops working? Would you have enough liquid cash to pay for these kinds of major repairs? Will the need to maintain basic home maintenance like having the driveway plowed in the winter or the lawn mowed in the summer deplete too much money from your family budget?
Another consideration is whether you’re giving up other valuable assets (i.e., retirement savings) in order to buy out your spouse’s equity. What will this mean for the big picture of safeguarding your future?
Bottom line: If your decision to attempt negotiation for full ownership of the family home is solely based on your emotional ties to the house, consider this a red flag to step back and see how the house fits in with your larger financial picture.
Mistake: Letting emotions rule your case
Emotions like feeling angry and hurt are understandable and certainly expected when a marriage ends. The problem occurs when negative emotions prevent you from at least attempting to work out an agreement with your ex through mediation, which is a golden opportunity to save time and money during your divorce.
The overburdened family courts in New Jersey strongly favor settlements and encourage couples to come up with agreements that they can live with.
It is advisable to approach your divorce in a businesslike, neutral way. Whether we like it or not, New Jersey is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning that, unless there are really exceptional circumstances, one spouse does not receive more money or property in the divorce just because the other spouse was unfaithful or made other poor decisions.
Mistake: Not being strategic about your divorce filing date
Most people put little thought into the date that they file the Complaint for Divorce; however, the date you file is nothing short of critical because the filing date fixes a cut-off time stamp for equitable distribution of 401Ks and other retirement plans and benefits, and other investment assets and debts. The courts can also use the filing date as a hard start date for child support obligations.
How can a filing date go wrong? Let’s say Sarah and John separated but did not make a formal agreement about child support. Months drag on and John is sporadic at best about sending Sarah a check. Sarah is frustrated because she is having a hard time paying the bills. She finally files for divorce, something she knows is long overdue. After that, John completely stops paying her child support. Sarah goes to court and explains that she and John separated a year earlier and that he paid the $500/month that he verbally promised only a few times. Sarah asks for retroactive support to cover all the child-related costs she needed to shoulder alone. She was shocked when she found out that, at most, she would probably only get one month of support dating back to her actual filing date. Had Sarah gone ahead and filed when she knew the marriage was over—a year earlier—she would be able to recoup the thousands of dollars in support she lost out on.
If you’re not sure about your filing date, get a free consultation with an attorney to understand your best options. Your financial future will thank you for it.
Mistake: Taking legal advice from friends and relatives
It’s wonderful to have friends and family offer support as you start the divorce process. I encourage you to get all of the emotional and personal strength you need from loved ones, but steer clear of legal advice unless they are a practicing family law attorney. There are many reasons to shy away from any legal advice from friends and family not the least of which is that rules governing divorce in New Jersey, including child custody matters and asset division, are constantly changing and complex. Though well-meaning, you may be on the receiving end of mistaken and/or outdated advice that will cost you excess time, money and stress — and you don’t need any more of that!
Your path to your bright new future starts with making the best decisions possible during your divorce. The good news is that some of the most vexing problems that erupt in divorce are often completely avoidable.
In the end, your divorce will come down to the details! When you get these right, the peaceful and safeguarded future you want can be waiting for you.
Want to learn more? Here are the top 5 costly mistakes of divorce, which includes why choosing the wrong grounds for divorce could end up costing you more time, money and stress.
Bari Weinberger is a family law expert, author, keynote speaker, and certified matrimonial attorney at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group. In addition to the numerous awards she and her firm have received, and the decades of successful outcomes for families going through difficult times, Bari is a mom herself. She understands that your family law matter can leave you vulnerable and exposed at a time when you need protection, clarity and peace of mind. Finding the right legal counsel adds to the confusion, darkening your situation even more. Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group is the bright answer to safeguarding your rights, your children, and securing the promising new future you deserve.