When the word “divorce” first pops into your consciousness, it’s normal to feel like you are in a slow motion movie, where everything else around you stops and all of your perceptions become distorted. Even after “reality” returns, it’s hard to focus and to wrap your head around what’s happening. What’s worse is that, because everything around you seems surreal, and you are in completely unfamiliar territory, its difficult to figure out what is really going on. In that state, no matter who you are, or how smart you are, it is really easy to fall prey to bad divorce advice.
What is Bad Divorce Advice?
I consider divorce advice that purposely amplifies your fears, and/or leaves you feeling stupid, unempowered, or confused to be bad divorce advice. It doesn’t matter to me if you are male or female, young or old, educated or not. You have a right to understand what is happening to you and what your options are. And you absolutely have the right to get advice that is true. Unfortunately, that’s not always the kind of advice you get, even from divorce professionals.
How Do You Find the Truth?
I went to a divorce seminar this week. It was a seminar put together by a financial institution for “women in transition,” which is a polite way of saying “women going through a divorce.” I went as myself – i.e. not as “a lawyer.” What I heard shocked me.
While a lot of the information given at the seminar was helpful, some of what the panelists – and particularly the divorce lawyer – were saying was nothing short of bad divorce advice. Which led me to the question: How would a regular person, who was facing divorce and scared to death about the future, know good divorce advice from bad divorce advice?
Sadly, I don’t have a great answer to that question. I don’t know how you tell fact from fiction when your world is falling apart and your head is spinning. But I am in a position to share my experience with you, and tell you what I believe is some really bad divorce advice so that when you hear it, you can just take it with a grain of salt.
Top 10 Pieces of Bad Divorce Advice Lawyers Give Clients
1. “Normal” visitation for a Non-custodial parent is every other weekend and one evening per week. Says who?!! There is no law in any state that I know of that says a non-custodial parent’s visitation is limited to every other weekend and one evening per week. Yes, that is a schedule that many people use. So what? How much time parents spend with their kids depends on the parents and on the kids. What works in one family is a mess in another. Your parenting time should be based on what is best for YOUR children and not what some “normal” visitation schedule is or should be.
2. 50/50 parenting time is not good for children. Again, says who? In some cases, 50/50 parenting is fabulous for the children. It is exactly what they need. In other cases, 50/50 parenting is a disaster! Either the children are too young, or the parents live too far away, or there are other reasons why a different parenting schedule would work better. Parenting schedules should be made based upon the particular facts of each case.
3. Joint custody is only in the children’s best interest if the parents get along. This one is true, but only partially. Yes, joint custody requires parents to be able to work together for the children. But you don’t have to get along on everything in order to make joint custody work. You just have to be able to communicate with each other and agree on what is relevant to your children.
4. Mediation takes longer than fighting in court. This is just plain, straight up, not true. Are there cases where mediation takes a long time? Sure. Are there cases which are resolved in mediation in a couple of sessions? Absolutely. While statistics vary widely, all of the statistics I have ever seen say that resolving your case through mediation is quicker than fighting in court.
5. The average divorce takes 7 – 13 months. Accurate divorce statistics are extremely difficult to compile. Different sources “quote” different statistics, all of which say different things. So, whenever someone starts quoting you statistics, be careful! The bigger question, though, is: Why does it matter? When you are going through a divorce, do you really care how long the “average” divorce (whatever that is) takes? Or, do you care how long your case takes?
6. If you get a good divorce lawyer s/he won’t let you make mistakes. Your divorce lawyer does not run your life. Your divorce lawyer doesn’t (and shouldn’t) make decisions for you! Even if s/he did, contrary to what some divorce lawyers would have you believe, lawyers are only lawyers. We are not magicians. We can’t protect you from every pitfall in life, or even in your divorce. The best we can do is tell you where the pitfalls are and help guide you so that you avoid them.
7. Retirement plans are usually divided equally. Not really. Retirement plans are simply one asset in your marital estate. How the retirement plans are divided in any case depends upon all of the facts and circumstances of that case, as well as whether the state you live in is a community property state, or an equitable distribution state.
8. You need to get a restraining order when you start your divorce to keep your spouse from stealing assets. Starting out your case by running into court to get a restraining order is a great way to set the stage for World War III before you even know whether there will be a battle! If your spouse is about to drain the bank accounts and fly to Tahiti with his/her new sweetie, then, yes! You may need a restraining order. But in most cases, getting a restraining order – particularly without first having a good reason for doing it – is a bad idea.
9. You are not allowed to tell your children about your divorce until two weeks before your divorce is final. I don’t know who came up with this idea, but, from a legal perspective, it is just plain wrong. Courts are always trying to do what is in the best interest of the children. Every child in every case is different. I don’t think there is, or should be, any blanket rule about a precise date on which children should be told about a divorce.
10. If you don’t hire an aggressive lawyer to protect you in your divorce, you will end up with nothing. This sounds to me like a trial lawyer’s marketing statement. Is it true? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. If your spouse is purposely hiding assets, or threatening you with physical abuse, or refusing to cooperate in your divorce, then you may need an aggressive lawyer to protect you. On the other hand, if you and your spouse are still civil with each other and want to resolve your case amicably, hiring an aggressive lawyer is the worst thing you can do.