People make mistakes in their divorce that can cost them money in the long term. These mistakes happen when you try to rush through the process or don’t have enough information to help you make good decisions. Taking your time and doing it right saves both time and money. Here are some of the most common mistakes that I have seen.
- Common Divorce Mistake #1 – You must go to court to get divorced
In a divorce, you don’t have to go to court at all. It is common to think that because it is a divorce that it will be ugly or bitter. A divorce case can be resolved entirely outside of the court process through Mediation or Collaborative Divorce. These processes are amazing. You don’t have to go to court, and it can be empowering, transformative, and lead to settlements that all parties are satisfied with.
- Common Divorce Mistake # 2 – Assuming that you will automatically be divorced in six months.
A lot of people think that the divorce process should only take six months, asking if they will be divorced at that time. In California, there is a required six-month waiting period before a divorce becomes final. But very few divorces are finalized by the six-month mark. In less complex divorces where there may be no minor children, small amounts of property or other assets, and there is no significant dispute over spousal support, a divorce can be resolved within the six-month period. The earliest marital status can be dissolved is six months plus one day from the time that the petition is properly filed and served on the other spouse. How long it takes depends upon the process chosen. In a litigated divorce, which is a court process, there are a lot of court delays right now, so it could take much longer. Mediation or Collaborative Divorce allows the couple to determine the speed at which the case moves toward resolution. In my opinion, Mediation and Collaborative Divorce can be a lot faster than the court process, if that is what the couple desires.
- Common Divorce Mistake # 3 – Only fathers pay child support
Child support in California is based on guideline formula calculators and it is based on a variety of factors, such as the net income of the parents, the parenting plan or timeshare arrangements. Basically, it is a formula that determines how to allocate the resources of the parents to support the children. It can either be a mother or a father that pays the monthly child support depending on their respective incomes and the time that each parent has with the child.
- Common Divorce Mistake # 4 – Not having a solid and well thought out parenting plan.
Too many times, parents think, “we can work together, and we can leave out the details”. Six months later, they both have new spouses, which creates some emotional complexities as they adjust and so now, they are back in mediation. I think it is important for anyone with children to establish a good parenting plan. A parenting plan should spell out where the children will live, how the parents are going to share time, who is going to make decisions for them as well as include details about holidays and vacations.
When a parenting plan is vague, it does not anticipate the needs of the family or allow for changes as the children grow older. This can lead to ongoing conflict. It is a good idea to really think about it and be flexible with each other, although filling out the details can do wonders to prevent future conflict as well as provide a plan that the children can rely on.
- Common Divorce Mistake # 5 – Failing to understand community property vs separate property.
Every divorce will require the division of community debts and assets. I think it is important to understand what community property is and what is separate property. A lot of times, assets are of a mixed nature. For instance, if I had a retirement account for 10 years prior to getting married, got married, and contributed to the plan for another five years while I was married, then the asset is going to be both community property and separate property. A common mistake or misconception is that some people think, “my retirement account is my separate property because I had it before marriage.” When it is a mixed component, the community and separate property values can be determined on a case-by-case basis through the guidance of a professional.
I think it is very important that couples get educated about divorce as early as possible by going through workshops, such as the Divorce Options Workshop, sponsored by Collaborative Practice of California. Divorce Options will give you information about out-of-court alternatives that a divorce attorney may not tell you about in an initial consultation. The divorce process you choose will have a significant impact on the case and the story of your divorce.