Common Mistakes of Divorcing Parties

The following may be obvious to everyone; if so, lots of people are willing to ignore good sense.

Mistakes of married people: (Apologies to Dr. Laura)
1. Lack of mutual respect;

2. Failure to treat one’s spouse as an equal;

3. Failure to say, “I love you.” and to put your spouse above all others. Your spouse is the only one you have pledged to “cleave to” for life. You leave your parents, and your children leave you. You marriage was to be “for life”, and your spouse was supposed to be your best friend. What happened?
4. The opposite of #3 is insecurity evidenced by jealousy or resentment of your spouse’s spending time with friends or family.
There is a balance, which healthy relationships have.
5. Addictions of all kinds.
I once had a client accused of spending six hours a day on Internet porn and drinking two cases of beer a day. His response, “That’s a damnable lie! It’s no more than three hours and one case!” I knew that marriage was in trouble.
6. Controlling and abusive behavior.
Just read the ten, “Did you ever?” questions on the back of the Women’s Aid in Crisis Brochure. “Put-downs, insults, threats, and “mental games”, damaging personal property, injuring or threatening pets, and violence and the threat of violence”. Watching people with these problems interact during a mediation is absolutely fascinating. Their inability to think constructively, avoid recrimination, and resist attempts at domination, is stunning. There are people who can help such folks reduce the conflict, at least so they can raise healthy children; more on that in a later post.
7. Lack of a moral center.
this includes everything from profanity in the home, failure to belong to organizations, including churches, that promote moral behavior, failure to make sure the children complete their homework, or join groups at school; failure to find time for the children, failure to monitor television and computer use, allowing t.v.’s and computers in the kids’ bedrooms, failure to promote proper diet and exercise among family members, and simple selfishness almost guarantee problems within the family. And, the abuse victim is often a BIG part of the problem.

Mistakes of divorcing parties: (Or, just as you screwed up your marriage, you can screw up your divorce.)
1. Exposing the children to the “significant other”,
especially in the weeks immediately following the separation.
2. Involving the children in the divorce
and speaking negatively about the other parent, or permitting others to do so. I have had clients swear to me they have never done this only to have them say things to me in the presence of their children that make me cringe. When I chide them, the common response is, “Well it’s true!” There is much that is true in the world that you would not expose your children to. No doubt, your children will figure out for themselves the flaws of their parents, but they are likely to remember well your efforts to demean someone they love. Some clients interpret my advice to be that they should lie to the children and pretend the spouse has no flaws. Wrong! The “parenting class” that every divorcing parent is required to attend gives parents the tools they need to make sure the children did not believe the divorce is their fault, to explain their going through a process that will eventually resolve, and to create a life as normal as possible for the children during the transition.

3. Cutting off the other spouses utilities, auto insurance coverage, medical insurance;
trying to create insecurity or fear in the other party (Something that gets me more clients than just about anything else), and forgetting “the Golden Rule, yet such behavior is utterly common.

4. Failure to pay child support or contribute to the family budget voluntarily post separation. Clearly, there are fundamental bills that have to be paid. Collaboration by the parties and making sure they get paid is critically important but often strongly resisted. Couples with $15,000 of unsecured consumer debt have been spending $300-$500 a month more than they make for years. Yet, often the husband finds this to be a perfect time to buy a new truck! Not to pick on husbands, but when there’s a girlfriend in the picture, this is the time to show her he is a “big shot” with nice gifts and a busy “social life”, often defined as a trip to the local karaoke bar. If there was a shortfall while the parties lived under the same roof, it should be obvious that the shortfall will be greater when the parties have separate budgets. That is why I counsel my client, and request the other party, to continue maintaining the family finances as they have been doing. Many times we can avoid child support and alimony payments simply by keeping the bills paid.
5. Hiring the most contentious, expensive, attorney you can find.

Although I get many clients because of my reputation as a “bulldog”, I urge people to ask lots of questions of friends and acquaintances, especially in the small town environment where an attorneys reputation is commonly known. Rather than hire someone who “fights” over every issue, find someone who understands people, cares about them and their children, and looks toward your long-term best interests and your children’s instead of short-term “gotchas”.

Also find someone with sufficient experience, staff, and diligence to push your case forward, to file pleadings on time, to complete orders as directed by the court, and to use mediation to its full advantage. The “common cold” of mediocrity and family law attorneys is a lack of imagination. Let’s face it, there aren’t that many lawyer poets, artists and authors, Grisham and Steve Coonts excepted. Steve was a Buckhannon Attorney by the way!

Doing something because, “That’s the way we always do it.” is no reason, but many lawyers justify their advice with such a comment.

6.Failing to maintain currency in technology and continuing legal education.

7. Being “loose with the truth” or even lying to the judge.
The former is common; the latter more rare. It is so easy for a lawyer to say the first thing that comes to mind instead of verifying the truth or testing her client’s story.

One advantage I have after 38 years is a full array of “lie detecting techniques”. I probably cannot articulate many of them, but spotting a lie these days is usually pretty easy for me. Give me a “truthful sinner” any day. A client who will tell her attorney the truth is better for that attorney then a “better” person who chooses to “shade the truth”.

I have great confidence in my ability to give good advice but it is only as good as the facts I am working with.

Apologies for the length of these posts, but finding that perfect time every day for a short “pithy” post is pretty difficult. Sometimes these things just accumulate.
Burt Hunter

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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