Divorce is a difficult undertaking even in the best of circumstances when a couple amicably agrees to part ways. More often than not, remaining amicable during divorce is difficult and sometimes one or both spouses make it impossible. During the emotional turbulence of the divorce process — which takes at least 6 months in California — there are ample opportunities for unfortunate mistakes. Some of these mistakes may have long-term impacts on each spouse’s life going forward during and after the divorce process.
If you and/or your spouse have decided that your marriage is irretrievably broken and a divorce is inevitable, it’s important to be aware of these potential pitfalls and do your best to avoid them.
Remember to Keep Kids High-Priority
Family courts in most states have the goal of always acting in the best interests of children when deciding matters of custody, visitation, and child support. It’s essential for divorcing couples with children to also keep kids at the very top of their priority lists during a divorce. This means keeping the disruption to their lives as minimal as possible, resisting the urge to over-confide in kids, and never talking badly about the other parent whom the children love. Never use kids to punish the other parent, such as attempting to withhold parenting time or visitation rights.
Never Navigate Divorce Without a Lawyer
It’s critical in most divorces to have a skilled divorce attorney advocating strongly on your behalf and ensuring California’s mandatory 50/50 division of assets remains fair and equitable to protect your rights. A good lawyer can also protect your rights in the all-important matters of child custody and support.
While it’s possible for some couples without children or substantial assets to part ways legally through settlements they agree to without a lawyer, even the most agreeable spouses and uncontentious divorces involve complex legal matters that require careful navigation and diligent attention to paperwork.
Don’t Try to Hide Marital Assets
California’s community property law requires a 50/50 division of all marital assets and debts and demands full disclosure during the discovery process. Both parties in a divorce have the duty to disclose all of the relevant information and can face perjury charges with up to 4 years of jail time if they attempt to conceal assets. Often there are civil penalties that could involve the spouse ending up with 100% of the asset the other tried to hide. In some cases, hiding assets can end in criminal charges of fraud.
Don’t Play a Passive Role
While it’s both advisable and commendable to remain civil with a spouse throughout the divorce process and it’s highly beneficial to keep communication open while settling the divorce agreement, don’t let emotions lead you into playing too passive a role and losing assets you might later regret. It’s important to identify individual assets early, such as property purchased before the marriage and any inheritance or gifts from a third party that isn’t subject to division but belongs to you alone.
Be sure to have a lawyer help you thoroughly assess your assets and defend your right to 50% of the marital property.
It’s especially important to ensure you aren’t passive in demanding your fair share of the parenting time. It’s in the best interests of the family for parents to negotiate their own shared custody and parenting schedule rather than leave it up to a judge who isn’t as familiar with the family situation.
By avoiding these common errors during a divorce you can simultaneously defend your own best interests and those of your children without alienating a spouse or adding to the emotional toll of a divorce.