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The Top 10 Divorce Mistakes

Dec 23, 2020

Ever wonder why so many divorces turn ugly? Even when the spouses – when they first separate – pledge to each other that they will put the children first and will be civil to each other? And when they go through all the steps that should create peace: using a mediator, creating a parenting plan, and having a general idea how they will divide the property? Everything goes well.

Then, somehow, things start going downhill. They begin to fight. The divorce nightmare begins. Soon, they only communicate through their lawyers. Tension and legal bills increase. The children suffer. At the end these parents wonder what happened, where things went wrong. It takes years to repair the relationship to what it was when they separated.

If you want to avoid the same fate, keep reading so you can better avoid the top 10 divorce mistakes.

How do I know this? I was a family law lawyer who used to represent individuals in court. As a divorce mediator, I have seen lawyers make inconsequential changes to the agreement the former spouses have achieved. This makes people doubt their judgement and increases conflict.

When I divorced peacefully, my lawyer tried to do this. When I refused to follow their professional advice, I had to sign a paper that I would never sue them when things went sideways. I remember being furious, feeling like I was being treated like I was 10 years old. I thought, “This is me, who is part of the legal system and who understands. What is it like for people who aren’t?” This was the wake up call to me seeing things differently.

In all of these roles, I have seen families fall into the same traps, or mistakes. When they do, conflict replaces peace.

In no particular order, here is a list of the ones that are most common:

  1. Labelling your spouse: as a narcissist, suffers from mental health issues, or as difficult, etc.
  2. Failing to budget for divorce.
  3. Giving away your power to the legal experts.
  4. Seeking advice from people who either have no personal experience with divorce, or whose divorce was very traumatic and expensive.
  5. Not setting goals or not having a vision of what your life will be like in one year.
  6. Waiting for the perfect time to end the relationship.
  7. Hiring the first lawyer you call.
  8. Treating divorce as a legal issue.
  9. Self-isolating.
  10. Avoid speaking directly to your former spouse.

Here’s a short explanation on each of these mistakes.

Labelling your spouse keeps you stuck. It doesn’t matter if your spouse is a narcissist, is difficult, or suffers from mental health issues. Why? Because a label will not change the outcome. It will not improve the results, or the process. It gives you a reason to blame your spouse, and it gives your spouse a reason to blame you. When you blame someone, you stop listening to them. You stop seeing how you are responsible for what has happened. It leaves the other person feeling rejected. This shatters relationships. When one feels rejected, one does not act their best. The other person becomes defensive. It makes communicating extremely difficult. Blaming leads to conflict, and keeps you from focussing on what is best for your family.

If you want to put your children first and divorce peacefully, stop labelling and blaming your spouse.

Failing to budget. When you buy a meal at McDonalds, you know what your meal will cost when you place your order. Not so when you go to a divorce lawyer. You have no idea what the final cost will be. Financial insecurity creates tension. In divorce, this can really have a negative impact which in turn increases communication difficulties and conflict. Often when conflict increases, costs increase. It is a vicious circle.

Knowing what you are prepared to spend at the start – setting a divorce budget – helps families remain in charge. For more information on costs associated with different divorce processes, see this blog post.

Giving away your power to the legal experts. You made a lifetime commitment, and you aren’t keeping it. As a result, you beat yourself up. You feel like a failure. You doubt yourself. Self-doubt makes people susceptible to listening to others. People who feel like this make decisions based on what the experts tell them to do, instead of what they know is right for their families.

Your marriage ending does not reflect your worth as a human being, or as a parent. You only think it does because your mind is lying to you. When a person feels like a failure, they do not trust themselves. They forget they are the experts of our families. If they can remember that they are the CEOs of their families and that their children need them to be advocates, parents will make better decisions during the process of divorce.

Remember, your marriage is broken. You are not. Know the difference.

Expecting divorce to be ugly and traumatic? Tt will be. If you haven’t thought about how you want experience divorce, it will be ugly. Divorce by its nature is painful. A relationship you expected to last is ending. It is as if a death has occurred. Pain is mandatory and must be felt to be processed. Conflict and trauma are not. You can decide how you experience divorce.

Seeking advice from the wrong people is a leading cause of ending up on the road to divorce hell. Your family and friends mean well, but they aren’t you. You are the expert of your family and must pay for your divorce. To use a colloquialism, these advisors have no skin in the game. If you follow their advice you may regret it, as discussed in more detail in this blog post.

Failing to set goals. When a marriage ends, we tend to focus on the past: dividing our property, considering historically, who has been the better parent, etc. We don’t live in the past, but we approach divorce as if we do. Focusing on the past keeps us stuck in pain. Remember the saying, “if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail”? This is true of divorce. If you don’t know where you want to end up, what you want your life to be like in a year, it is easy to travel a road and end in a strange place.

Waiting for the perfect moment to end your marriage. There never is going to be a perfect moment. This is painful territory. We make excuses to avoid the pain that is part of difficult conversations. The reality is, the likelihood of engaging in a constructive conversation decreases with time. The longer you wait, the more tension will develop between you. This will reduce the likelihood of remaining civil during the divorce process.

Hiring the first lawyer you call. Hire a lawyer who matches your goals. Interview some lawyers after you have set your goals. Use the questions about hiring the right divorce lawyer at https://youtu.be/DW--em08Szc.

Treating divorce as a legal issue. You, your spouse and your children are more than legal rights and obligations. You are people with feelings. When divorce is approached as a life event - much like marriage and death – it is easier for you to focus on your children and minimize conflict and trauma. If you treat it as a life event, you’re more likely to seek help from other professionals such as counsellors, psychologists and grief recovery experts.

Self-isolating. Stop treating divorce as a sexually transmitted disease or an STD. If your friends cannot support you, find a community of people who will during this transition. Community helps.

Avoid speaking directly to your former spouse. Unless there are legitimate safety concerns (a narcissistic spouse isn’t one of them), communicate directly with your former spouse as much as possible. Start talking about the children. You’re always going to be their parents. If you don’t do this, you’ll over-spend, and your relationship will deteriorate. Your children will suffer. They love both of you and do not want to be caught in the middle. Set an example, for them.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have found this helpful. To learn more, book a complimentary 20 minute consultation.

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