In Loriann Hoff Oberlin’s
"Surviving Separation and Divorce
," she pinpoints the top 10 legal mistakes that people make. Since most people have had no experience with the legal system, they are often overwhelmed by complicated and thorny legal questions. Here’s how to avoid or deal with the top 10 legal mistakes. Mistake 1: Believing your spouse will be fair and cooperative.
Most people facing a divorce are emotionally vulnerable and upset, and many are in a state of denial. “My spouse would never treat me this way” is a sentiment Oberlin hears all too often but lo and behold spouses do mistreat their ex’s. Oberlin’s advice: Look out for number one and expect your spouse to do the same. Once you’re involved in a court case, you’re part of an adversarial system. She advises an attitude of cautious pessimism, lowered expectations and expect the worst and then be surprised.
Mistake 2: Having totally unrealistic expectations or demands of what you will gain from the divorce.
Too many people enter divorce proceedings and expect that they will get everything that they want. Often, those demands are exaggerated. Since finances, children, property, a business or retirement funds are in dispute, you need to make your demands reasonable and not expect that you’ll get everything. Oberlin says the key in approaching divorces is to have realistic expectations, focus on problem solving and do everything you can to help your own case. Mistake 3: Not asking appropriate questions or signing documents without asking questions
Many litigants are intimidated by the legal system and their attorneys and instead of asking questions, accept everything on blind faith. That won’t work. Instead ask as many questions about your settlement as you would if you were buying an automobile. Be thoughtful, skeptical and analytical. Oberlin’s advice: ask your attorney for an honest evaluation of what your chances are to obtain assets, home and money. Figure out what you want such as whether your ex-spouse can pay for college and room and board and then ask questions of your attorney to make sure you do everything to get what you want. Mistake 4: Withholding information from you attorney.
Some people don’t trust their attorneys, even though the lawyer is representing them. By withholding information about their future plans or financial assets, they’re trying to maintain control over the situation. Some are trying to pull the wool over their attorney’s eyes, but most end up fooling themselves. Oberlin’s advice, “You need to present a clear slate of what your motives are. If you want your attorney to do an effective job, they need the whole truth.” Mistake 5: Not checking facts or figures given you by attorneys and others.
Attorneys, like other people, make mistakes. Oberlin has heard of cases where the attorney wrote incorrect names of the children on a brief, which led to some complicated problems. Though many people are intimidated by legalese, Oberlin advises reading all documents, motions, and briefs to ensure accuracy. “Once something is entered into the courts’ record or the judges’ memory, it may be too late to correct,” she said. Mistake 6: Allowing emotions rather then logic to rule your legal decisions
Many people going through divorce are emotionally frazzled and distraught. Or they think they’re right 100 percent of their time, and they’ve been victimized by some evil person. If you let your emotions gain control, rather than reason and logic, you will undermine your case. Instead Oberlin suggested “become reflective rather than reactive. Anxious people often don’t hear what is said correctly nor do they articulate well.” Mistake 7: Expecting the legal system to be fair and the court will see things from your perspective.
No matter how much you think you are right, the judge can see issues from another viewpoint, not always yours. Furthermore, because of procedural rules, judges often rule on limited, not total information.They don't care if you're nice
. Hence, don’t expect that your viewpoint, no matter how noble and just, will prevail. The more skeptical and balanced you are, the better you can problem-solve and obtain the most favorable outcome. Mistake 8: Allowing too much time to pass before enforcing a court order.
Too many people going through divorce proceedings don’t want to be bothered by rules and court deadlines. Hence, when papers need to be signed, they postpone doing what the court asked. Making sure documents are signed in a timely way is a way of maintaining your rights and ensuring you get what you deserve. Mistake 9: Forgetting tax ramifications of legal decisions and not hiring a financial advisor.
Divorce proceedings entail assets, property, estates, retirement money, which all have tax implications. Oberlin advises that you have a trusted financial advisor counsel you on tax consequences. Must you pay income tax on capital gains? Is spousal support taxable? You need a knowledgeable financial advisor to navigate the many tax consequences of a divorce. Mistake 10: Being a hindrance, not a help to your case.
Your goal should be to do everything in your power to assist your case and support, not hinder, your attorney. If you start pestering your attorney, calling the lawyer five times a day with trivial questions, you are going to alienate the one person who represents you. Oberlin’s advice: ask your attorney how you can best assist them. TO READ MORE:
Click here for a story about the legal costs in divorce.
Click here for a story about what women should know about finances before divorce.
Click here for tips to find out if your spouse is hiding cash.
Click here for a list of divorce attorneys and divorce financial experts in your area.Gary M. Stern co-authored "Minority Rules: Turn Your Ethnicity into a Competitive Edge (Harper Collins 2006)," a how-to business book helping women, African Americans and Latinos climb the corporate ladder.