There are probably (hopefully) lots of great things that came from your marriage. And probably some bad things too. This makes divorce tricky to navigate. And it can be especially thorny for anyone over 50 who’s spent a few decades living a certain way of life. So how exactly are we supposed to get through this uncharted territory without slipping up too much? We can learn from other people’s mistakes—and who has more experience in the court system than a matrimonial lawyer? So we tapped New York City divorce attorney Jacqueline Newman to highlight the ten most common divorce mistakes and how to avoid them during your own legal proceedings.
1. Pulling the divorce trigger before you’re actually ready
It seems obvious, but if you’re initiating the divorce, you should be truly ready to get divorced. Newman has seen the just-dropped-the-kids-off-at-college divorce call time and time again. “That initial gut reaction of no longer having to stay in the marriage ‘for the kids’ may be a good one…and it may not be,” Newman warns. From her experience, you need to be ready to accept the other consequences of divorce—such as a change in lifestyle, a change in social status and a change in how you spend time with your children.
2. Staying in the financial dark
Lots of marriages divvy responsibilities up—one spouse may handle the finances and the other spouse may handle the running of the home. If you fall into the latter camp, and you’re not familiar with your family finances (what you own, what you owe, how much money comes in and how much goes out), then you should do your best to become familiar with the financial picture before you move forward with a divorce, Newman advises.
3. Not creating the right financial team
Financial stuff can be tricky. So Newman recommends picking and choosing the right circle of advisors who can advise you on the legal and financial implications of divorce—and who you can trust. This starts with finding an attorney you trust. Says Newman: “I typically tell people to begin by asking friends/family who they have worked with attorneys who they liked so you can get an inside look.” And if you're not ready to confide that you're considering a divorce, Newman suggests reviewing independent sources such as: Lawyers.com, BestLawyers.com and Superlawyers.com. From there, if you're comfortable, your attorney can be a great resource for financial advisor recommendations that can best support you.
4. Not truly appreciating how much your life may change
“I tell people that ‘Toilet paper does not grow on the roll,’” Newman shares. From her work, she’s seen that too many people believe that a divorce will simply result in there being one less place to set at the dinner table. “But there is much more to it. There are little things that your spouse handled that you never thought of because you did not have to. However, now you will need to and so it is important to be ready to understand how the TV remote control actually works as well as where the local supermarket is.
5. Not leaning on a support group
Divorce is emotionally challenging. Unfortunately, Newman has seen too many people go into isolation when going through a divorce, not relying on friends and family as much as they should. “I encourage people to reach out and allow the people who love you to support you through this time. However, be careful to have these people be a positive influence and not a negative one,” she guides. In other words, seek out friends who you know have your back 100 percent and cut toxic people—say, the ones who are filtering sensitive info back to your ex—out of the equation.
6. Treating a lawyer as a therapist
“Your lawyer is a very expensive therapist,” Newman jokes. But for real, they’re not actually trained in this field—and their role in your divorce is incredibly different (as helpful as your attorney may be!). Address your mental health and hire a professional or join a support group. And remember that your lawyer’s job is to support your financial, legal and custody rights—not your emotional ones.
7. Letting your emotions dictate your decisions
“As cold as it may sound, divorce needs to sometimes be looked at with the same lens as a business transaction: clearly and without emotion,” instructs Newman. “You are making very personal and serious decisions that will impact your future and your children's future, so you cannot let the anger/hurt of the moment influence you.” Rely on therapists, friends and family to get your emotions out before you step into your attorney's office so you can be ready to talk business.
8. Rushing the process
Nobody wants to be in divorce proceedings that last forever, but you also shouldn’t agree to anything just in the name of getting it over with. No matter the circumstances, Newman stresses that it’s worth not rushing decisions (like custody agreements or property and asset divisions) that you may regret later. Says Newman: “You need to pay attention to all fine print and understand every detail of the deal you are making.”
9. Not making a future plan
“It’s hard not to live from moment-to-moment when you are going through such a tumultuous [time],” Newman explains. “But that said, it is very important to start to plan the picture of what your life will look like after the divorce. Start looking at real estate to figure out where you are going to live and what your future spending and income streams are going to be. Start to prepare for your new life.”
10. Letting yourself think that the world is ending
From Newman’s experience, it’s common and understandable for someone going through a divorce to live in a constant state of gloom and doom. And yes, she expresses, “On one hand, the world that you may have known is ending. But on the other hand, try to recognize is that there is the potential for a whole new world to open up.” Try to remember that when one door closes, a window opens. “Divorce can be seen as a way to open someone up to a new healthier and happier relationship than they were previously in.” It may be an ending to one chapter, but your story has ways to go.