Most clients are understandably nervous when we meet to discuss their case for the first time. They have many questions. One of the more frequently asked questions is: “How can I avoid making a mistake in my divorce?”
While every person’s situation is unique, there are some mistakes that arise frequently in a South Carolina divorce. As I listen to each of my clients, I try to understand where each of them may be in life and what they hope their life will be after they complete their divorces. As part of our conversations, I share suggestions on how to avoid the more common mistakes in a South Carolina divorce. Typically, we start by discussing six common South Carolina divorce mistakes.
1. MAKE DECISIONS WITH YOUR HEAD, NOT YOUR HEART.
Going through your divorce may be very emotionally challenging. Your life is changing rapidly and you may fear the future. You may be angry, depressed, and filled with regrets. At various times, your emotions may be almost out of control.
If you are at that point now or you sense you are about to get there during your divorce, call a “time-out,” take a deep breath, and give serious thought to where you want your life to be after you complete your divorce. Don’t allow your (soon to be “ex”) spouse to bait you into an angry response or an emotional decision. Instead, be smart and respond with reason and logic. Restrain your emotions and focus on building a better life for you and your children.
Be open to negotiating a divorce settlement, even if your emotions are telling you to “get even” and fight. Think outside “the box” as you move your life in a new and better direction. Always initiate with your head, instead of reacting with your emotions.
2. LISTEN TO YOUR DIVORCE LAWYER, NOT TO YOUR FRIENDS
Your friends care for you. They want your life to get better. They know you are going through a tough time. They mean well and they have lots of information and advice for you. However, they do not practice South Carolina family law and they do not know the practical – and so important – “nuts and bolts” of what actually happens in a divorce court in Berkeley, Charleston, or Dorchester County. More often than not, your friends are wrong on critical points of South Carolina divorce law. If you rely on your well-intentioned friends, you will probably make serious mistakes regarding alimony, child custody, child support, and the division of your marital property.
You should stifle the impulse to discuss your divorce with your friends and spouse. Anything you say could be used against you in a divorce court. For example, you may share a common friendship network with your husband or wife. When you tell your best friend about your divorce, you should assume that it may not be kept confidential. There are many ways that such comments can find their way back to your spouse’s divorce lawyer, who may use them against you.
Your Mount Pleasant family law attorney has the knowledge and experience that you need to make wise decisions in your divorce. Your lawyer will protect your best interests, keep your information confidential, and guide you through the complex South Carolina divorce process.
3. TRUST, BUT VERIFY.
You are ending a relationship in which you have invested your heart, time, and money. You may even be in a state of denial regarding your impending divorce.
You have everything on the line – your house, your business, your investments, and your children. You are probably economically and emotionally vulnerable. You may know very little about your spouse’s income, assets, debts, and retirement accounts.
You want to believe that your husband or wife will be fair in dividing the marital property. You hope that your spouse will cooperate with you in minimizing the conflict and costs in your divorce. You want to trust, but you know that you must protect your future.
What should you do?
You must look out for yourself and your children first. And, you should expect your spouse to do the same thing.
You should anticipate the worst and be pleasantly surprised if you are wrong. It may be too late to start looking for financial records if you wait until after your spouse has hidden assets, hired an attorney, and removed the legal and financial documents from your computer, file cabinets, and office.
A seasoned divorce mediator once said: “When someone tells you, ‘It’s not about the money,’ be cautious. It’s always about the money.”
You need to know the facts now. Start by delving into your family’s financial history and organizing your financial and legal documents. Copy every financial and legal document that you can find at home or the office. Likewise, get copies of all of your financial and legal papers that any financial institution, financial planner, attorney, accountant, or investment firm may have.
Then, with the assistance of a Mount Pleasant divorce lawyer, you will know what your financial options are in the division of your marital property and the payment of alimony, child support, and attorney’s fees from the divorce. You will be dealing from a position of strength in working cooperatively with your spouse to negotiate a fair divorce settlement.
4. BE REALISTIC
Many people believe that their divorce judge will give them everything that they want. These people imagine their world the way that they want it to be post-divorce. Then, they paint themselves into the picture.
The reality is that divorce judges live in the real world. No one gets “everything” in a South Carolina divorce court.
You and your spouse are no different. You may be in direct conflict regarding child custody, child support, alimony, your home, retirement accounts, the business, investments, payment of marital debts, and many other things. You need the help of an experienced Mt. Pleasant divorce lawyer.
You should develop realistic divorce objectives for your children (custody and child support) and your financial future (alimony and marital property division). By working closely with your divorce lawyer, you can then focus on problem solving. By being realistic, you are more likely to achieve your objectives and minimize your emotional and financial costs in the divorce process.
5. DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
It’s easy to not see “the forest” for “the trees” in a divorce. Your life may be turned upside down. You may fear the unknown. In the midst of everything, your spouse may focus on a relatively small item and blow it completely out of proportion.
A divorce client called me late one week before Christmas. He was outside his home. The police were there. He and his wife had gotten into a fight over dividing Christmas ornaments. Soon, both of them had criminal charges for domestic violence and battery.
Although I had frequently counseled my client on the importance of focusing on the big things, he could not walk away when his wife baited him into a fight over the insignificant – in terms of dollars – Christmas ornaments. As a consequence, each of them had to pay significant amounts for criminal attorneys to negotiate plea bargain deals.
You have many alternatives to a fist fight when you start dividing personal property. With regard to family photographs and videos, you and your spouse could agree to copy everything and split the costs. For the remaining personal property, you could make a comprehensive list, make a rough estimate of the value of each item, and then place two columns – marked “his” and “hers” – next to the list. You and your spouse could then mark the items that each of you want, total up their respective values, and be prepared to pay a check for the net difference in value.
If both of you want something, you can flip a coin to see who gets first choice and then work your way down the list of contested items on an alternating selection basis. You will find that dividing your personal property this way will save you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars in attorney’s fees and appraisal costs.
6. EXHIBIT YOUR BEST BEHAVIOR
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media serve many good purposes. However, they can be disastrous in your divorce. Your spouse’s divorce lawyer can obtain copies of all of your social media posts, email, and internet site usage. If you join a dating site (such as Match.com) or visit porn sites, your spouse’s divorce lawyer may be able to find out about your activities.
You do not want to have to explain to your divorce judge – as happened in one of my cases – why you have given yourself a sexually suggestive nickname in an internet advertisement. If you have engaged in romantic email or posted anything on Twitter about your financial circumstances, you should consult an experienced Charleston County divorce lawyer regarding the best way to handle such potentially explosive material in your divorce.
There are many other practices that you should follow throughout your divorce. Here is a brief list of some of them:
– Prepare a chronological statement in which you summarize all of the significant events in your marriage.
– Do not have sex with anyone during your divorce proceedings.
– Always be prepared and well-organized for meetings with your lawyer and testimony in divorce court.
– Remove all guns from your residence and store them elsewhere.
– Do not drink alcohol or consume illegal drugs in the presence of your children or your spouse.
– Do not verbally abuse your children or your spouse – regardless of how much you may be provoked.
You will probably face many challenges in your divorce. This general list is just a starting point. You should hire a skilled Mount Pleasant divorce lawyer to guide you through the family law court and avoid divorce mistakes that can severely affect your children and you.
If you live in Mount Pleasant, Charleston, Goose Creek, Isle of Palms, James Island, Johns Island, Moncks Corner, Sullivan’s Island, Summerville, West Ashley, or another Low Country community, please call me now. I want to answer your questions about your South Carolina divorce before you have made a mistake that you regret.