Family Law

Mistakes to Avoid When Getting Divorced

By Kristina Otterstrom, Attorney
Learn about some common divorce mistakes and how to avoid them.

Don’t Overreact

Perhaps the most important thing you can do in a divorce is to stay calm. When you’re upset, tired, anxious, stressed, or focused on revenge, your ability to make decisions is compromised. When you're feeling calm and rested, you can think rationally and look at how your immediate actions will affect you in the long term. If you can keep a clear head in your divorce and avoid hurling insults, your divorce will probably run smoother and cost less.

Don’t Drain Your Joint Bank Accounts

Be very careful about your spending habits during your divorce case. Specifically, now is not the time to rack up mountains of debt or deplete your life savings on a sports car. In some states, both spouses have a claim to 50% of marital funds, but that doesn’t mean you should try to take your share all at once. If you have to pull out funds from a joint account, do so cautiously.

Don’t Keep Secrets From Your Attorney

Remember that your divorce attorney is on your side. Your lawyer's job is to advise and protect you in a divorce. Tell your attorney if you have “hidden” accounts, side income, or a criminal record. Your secrets will almost always come out during the divorce process anyway, so it's better if your lawyer knows about them in advance. It's easier for your attorney to plan ahead and take the wind out of your opposing attorney's sails by addressing your issues, than to try and do damage control during a trial.

Don’t Settle Your Case Without an Inventory of Marital Assets

Some couples enjoy a great working relationship even in the midst of divorce. However, don’t get too eager to settle with your spouse unless you have a written inventory of all marital assets. This list should include the following:

  • jointly and separately-owned real estate
  • owned or leased vehicles
  • personal property items of significant value, including household furnishings, televisions, computers, and artwork
  • bank or credit union accounts, including savings, checking, money market, or bonds
  • retirement accounts or pensions
  • brokerage accounts or mutual funds
  • life insurance policies
  • business ownership interests
  • outstanding tax balances or expected refunds, and
  • debts, including mortgages, credit card balances, car loans, and student loans.

Having a specific inventory of your property to work off of can help you divide assets fairly and prevent fraud. For example, if you reach a settlement agreement with your spouse and later discover a hidden account, you can make a claim for the entire hidden account balance. If you have a clear inventory list, you’ll be able to show that your spouse intentionally failed to disclose the account.

Don’t Give in to Your Spouse’s Requests and Demands

You need to be sure of yourself in a divorce. If you feel overwhelmed by the process or unsure of how to proceed, an attorney can help. It’s important not to let a demanding spouse force you into a settlement agreement or lead you to reconcile if you don’t want to. It’s normal to have moments of doubt and regret during a divorce. Some couples do reconcile during the divorce process, but don’t try to win a spouse back by giving in to unfair requests and demands.

Don’t Let Your Lawyer Make All Your Decisions

A seasoned divorce lawyer can be a real asset in your case. A good attorney can advise you about the long-term impact of your divorce decisions and prepare you for court, depositions, or mediation. It’s important to follow your lawyer’s advice about not stalking your ex or demeaning your spouse on social media. However, it’s also important to not let your lawyer make all your life decisions for you. For example, if you don’t want to keep the marital home or aren’t interested in fighting for sole custody of your kids, don’t let your lawyer push you. Even though your attorney can give you good legal advice, what’s the right decision for one person, may not be right for you. Ultimately, trust yourself because only you know what’s right for your future.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What financial information do I need to provide to make my divorce run smoothly?
  • What would be a fair settlement look like in my case?
  • I don’t want my divorce to go to trial. I’d like to reach a settlement, but how can I handle my spouse’s bullying?

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