Divorce can be the emotional equivalent of a roundhouse right as the former object of your affection becomes the target of your ire. Justified or not, hate can turn to anger and anger can make you do things you once thought unimaginable…
Downright stupid things.
Like that old tune says, “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.”
Fathers are susceptible to dumb mistakes during the divorce process — mistakes that drain their pocketbooks, hurt their relationships with their kids, and wreak havoc in every corner of their lives. Just because “dumb” and “dad” both start with the letter “D,” doesn’t mean you have to be that guy. It’s time to wise up, dads! When it comes to navigating your way through divorce, here are five big no-no’s you don’t want to do.
1. Driving Up the Cost of Litigation
If you want to go broke while simultaneously making a lot of enemies, then by all means do your best to drive up the cost of the divorce process. Trying to outspend your soon-to-be ex in the hope she’ll break can be a recipe for disaster and a bad idea for so many reasons.
Some states have laws that punish unreasonable behavior during divorce proceedings. California is a good example. The California Family Code gives the court the power to order attorney fees, based not only on one’s ability to pay, but also if a spouse’s conduct unnecessarily increases the cost of litigation. In other words, if the judge thinks you’re purposefully being a jerk, he could make you pay for it — literally.
This may be true even if your lawyer urged you to fight unnecessarily or drag the process out. When you’re choosing your legal advocate, make sure to do your homework and perform your due diligence. Always assess objectively or you could be the one left holding the bag.
2. Over-Extending Yourself Financially
Child support, alimony, dual household expenses, working yourself to an early grave…
Divorce is a game changer and in order to survive, you have to make adjustments and adapt.
Since two households are obviously more expensive to maintain than one, it’s important you understand your legal obligations in the wake of the divorce. Consulting with a lawyer can be an indispensable part of any pre-divorce budgeting and planning process. Knowledge is power and the sooner you plan for the changes to come, the quicker you’ll adapt when reality comes to town. A sound plan will address not only financial matters, but also maximize quality time with your children within the scope of a custody or visitation schedule.
3. Failing to Make Your Children a Priority
Some fathers want to keep the peace so badly they give in on matters of custody and hope they’ll get what they want over time. Keeping the peace is a noble goal. Staying out of family court is smart. But if it means your children suffer because you’re relinquished to being an every other weekend dad or worse, when you have more time to give, then you’ve likely done them a great disservice.
Children need both parents in their lives. Frequent and regular contact keeps the bond between parent and child. While time spent is not the sole determining factor, the quality of that time is paramount. Don’t trample on your own rights or your children’s best interest in a misguided attempt at compromise.
4. Using Children as Leverage for Child Support
In states such as California that still base child support, in part, on the amount of time with each parent, it’s easy to fall into this trap.
In an effort to reduce the amount of child support they pay, fathers sometimes put up long and expensive court battles over custody and visitation. Time with your children is important, but only if you intend to actually spend that time with them. If it’s really about reducing child support, you’re strolling down a dangerous path.
Let’s assume for a moment you’re successful in persuading the court to give you more time. What happens if you don’t follow through and spend that time with your kids? Or what happens if you decide to pawn them off to family or friends on your time? Depending on the laws in your state, you may find yourself right back in court. Worse yet, the fact you didn’t spend the time for which you fought so hard means you’ve likely lost credibility — not to mention the money you spent during the process.
5. Letting Support Arrears Build Up
Maybe you lost your job. Perhaps your pay decreased or something significant occurred that caused your income to take a nosedive. Whatever the reason, you can’t pay the court-ordered support, so you decide to stop paying.
If you’re in a state where the support order stays in force until you seek a modification, you could be building up support arrears. Factor in the legal rate of interest as well as other penalties and charges that may apply and it’s enough to make you scream, “Good God! What have I done?!“ Your outburst usually comes right after you’re served with papers that show how much unpaid support, plus interest and penalties, you owe.
Pick up the phone, call your divorce lawyer, and immediately find out what your rights are if your financial circumstances have changed since the most recent court order. Don’t sit on this. You may find you have to move quickly to file a modification request to preserve your rights and stop the financial hemorrhage the support order is causing.
That’s it for now, folks. Until next time, remember that divorce hits everyone differently. For some, it’s like a two-ton wrecking ball that blasts into your home and annihilates every aspect of your world. Other folks are so happy to be free, they do cartwheels down the street just to deliver the good news to the neighbors. But regardless of whether you sob yourself to sleep at night or throw a parade in your honor, don’t let divorce bring out the worst in you. Make intelligent decisions, be objective, and always get a good lawyer. Above all, write the next chapter of your life with dignity, wisdom and common sense at the forefront.
You’ll be glad you did.