Top 10 Mistakes Men Make While Going Through A Divorce
by Michael Romano
Authors Note: Certain liberties have been taken with regard to sexual/gender stereotypes for the sake of illustrative humor and important points. Don’t be offended. Hopefully you’ll find something helpful here to take away.
They Underestimate the Seriousness of Divorce
Many middle-class men are focused primarily on work. While they love their spouses and children, and they have weekends off, there is still much more emphasis in our culture on men being providers or “bringing home the bacon”. Therefore, during a divorce, it’s common for men to do what they’ve always done: keep their nose to the grindstone and focus on what’s still going well in life, and often in divorce that’s work. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but often times men will not complete necessary paperwork from their attorneys on time. Similarly, they may be slow or neglectful in gathering what’s called discovery (bank records, tax records, titles and deeds, etc). There can be severe consequences in divorce cases if certain pleadings are not filed on-time, or discovery is not provided by certain deadlines. Don’t underestimate the seriousness of a divorce. Treat it likes another job, or at least a part-time job.
They Don’t Want to Admit When They Need Help
There is a still a strong stigma in our culture on men reaching out for mental health care. It’s not uncommon for men in divorce cases to have feelings of anger, anxiety, and depression. There can be great benefits in seeing a counselor during and after a divorce. Similarly, there are times– unrelated to mental health– when men don’t want to seek help from bookkeepers, accountants, realtors, or other professionals. Sometimes it’s wise to delegate and/or rely upon other people with skills and training to get certain tasks done– not because you can’t do them yourself if given the time, but because it’s more efficient to have them taken care of by someone else. Especially if you’ve already got a full plate.
They Sell Themselves Short
There is a classic example I give to my male clients at the beginning of all cases and that is the example of the guy who says, “I just want my hunting and camping gear, and my tools. My wife can have everything else. I just want this divorce done and over”. While this may sound noble or at least simple, it can often result in a man selling himself very short on personal property valuation. A good attorney will spot this and point it out, but any man in a divorce case should know going in that it’s going to be of critical importance to carefully and thoroughly list and value all personal property of the marriage in order to make sure there’s an equitable division.
They Stop Working in an Attempt to Avoid Spousal or Child Support
This is probably one of the most common mistakes men make during divorce. They feel like they have no financial hope. They are saddled with monthly payments that they cannot afford, and therefore form the belief that if they stop working or slow down working that the judge will reduce or eliminate the monthly financial support obligations. Unfortunately for unsuspecting men, judges and opposing attorneys figured out long ago that some men would try to do this, so judges and attorneys become extremely skeptical when there’s suddenly a significant drop in income. Don’t attempt it. Keep working, work hard, make as much as you can. You’re going to need those resources, and don’t forget that support payments only take a portion of what you make (not all).
They Forget Their Life is Under a Microscope
While a divorce is pending, it’s a lousy time to suddenly buy the Corvette you always wanted, or the Harley Davidson you’ve had your eye on. It’s also a bad time to post negative things about your wife on Facebook, to sign up for a dating site and post provocative posts or pictures. It’s also a bad time to spend money on a debit or credit card in irresponsible ways. After all, those bank statements and credit cards will be reviewed by the opposing attorney and possibly the judge. It almost goes without saying it’s a bad time to use drugs or drink alcohol to excess. Be conservative during your divorce. Live life like a monk. Or at least avoid living like Charlie Sheen.
They Send Inappropriate Texts or Emails
While your divorce is pending, never send an email or text message that you’re not comfortable seeing on the front page of the morning paper. Or– put another way– never send an email or text message that you’re not comfortable having a judge read it aloud in a courtroom and then placing it in a public court file forever. This means you want to avoid heated emails and text messages, foul language, insults, comments about the attorneys or judge, and– of course– threats to the opposing party.
They Overstate or Understate Their Income and Expenses
Let’s face it: many men don’t know what groceries cost. They often aren’t familiar with daycare costs. They also don’t know exactly what they make in terms of gross income and net income. Some men also don’t know the balance of family credit cards or bank accounts. There is no time like a divorce to really examine these things. There are times when some men find out during the divorce that their deductions are incorrect and that they are actually making more or less than what they thought. Take a close look at the numbers because they will be relevant when the Court starts making divisions of finances, debts, and assigning things like spousal or child support.
They Lose Objectivity
It’s easy in a divorce case to feel like you’re in the “right” and your spouse is in the “wrong”. It’s also common to feel a sense of righteousness and injustice. However, it’s important to understand that– to the judge– you’re probably not very special, and you’re probably no saint. You are one of hundreds if not thousands of people who will divorce in your locale that year, and you’d best try to think of how a neutral, disinterested third-party is going to see your marriage– and your actions– from a different vantage point. Sometimes it can be helpful to ask friends or family members for their brutal honesty in giving you feedback about how your processing things, thoughts you’re having, and actions you’re taking. Just remember though: for their input or observations to be helpful, you’ve got to accept them with an open mind, and without defensiveness.
They Lose Their Cool
This is a nuanced and difficult dynamic to describe and discuss because we’re not talking about excuses for domestic violence, but we’re talking about perceptions or allegations of threatening words or conduct that could be perceived as harmful and that are therefore actionable by the Court even if they were not technically acts of domestic violence. For example, men who raise their voice at their spouse during heated arguments, men who make off-the-cuff or joking comments having to do with physical safety or destruction of property can often find themselves the subject of a restraining order or even police action. Be very careful in this area. You may think you’re just blowing off steam or making a joke, but if your spouse takes your words or conduct as threatening and reports them, a restraining order filed against you– even if later modified or dismissed– could have extremely serious consequences.
They Forget To Think About the Long-Term
Children observe, record, and are affected by much more than we typically give them credit for. You may not remember all the details of your divorce or what happened during the divorce, but there’s a fairly good chance your children will. They will pick up on things that you might think are insignificant, no big deal, or misunderstand actions and intentions. You need to make sure to think long-term. Making a negative comment about their mother or even changing your tone of voice to a more hostile or derogatory tone while speaking about the mother may have a negative impact on how the children perceive you for years. Lastly, never ever forget that a scorched Earth approach to child custody or parenting time may cause you to lose your children’s affection for decades. The mother of your children is the mother of your children for life. Don’t say or do anything during the divorce that you’ll regret for 10, 20, or 30 years. Always remember to think about the long-term and that what they say is true: divorce is not an ending of the family, but a reorganization of the family.
Michael Romano is a divorce attorney in Portland Oregon and has been in private practice since 2006.