By Robert M. Going, Family Law Attorney
Deciding to file for divorce is not an easy decision, and the process is rarely straightforward. Even small oversights or seemingly minor decisions can backfire. Maybe that’s why, at the end of a divorce, so many people have discovered that they’ve made mistakes during the process that resulted in more stress, lower awards, or more expense.
If you are one of the many people considering divorce in Lancaster County and surrounding areas, there are several common mistakes you can avoid to help you work towards the best possible outcome.
Mistake #1: Using the Divorce Process as a way to Extract Revenge
Many divorces involve some type of hurtful behavior on the part of one or both spouses. That’s why it’s completely normal to feel hurt and angry at the end of your marriage. However, being able to look at your divorce as a business deal (instead of a way to settle the score) can help speed through the process, save money, put less stress on your family, and still result in a favorable divorce settlement. A family law attorney from Going and Plank can advise you on strategies that can help you avoid an unnecessarily long or exceptionally confrontational process. We also help with child custody matters and agreements, and can even help you file for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order.
Mistake #2: Skipping the Separation Agreement
You might think that your divorce will be quick and easy and want to skip the trouble of filing for a separation agreement. Some couples rely on verbal agreements. However, a separation agreement is a legally-binding option that will ensure that finances, custody agreements, and spousal support is fully documented and enforceable. Separation agreements can help you map out who pays for the mortgage, car payments, insurance, and if you are the lower-earning spouse, can also set up alimony payments. Establishing guidelines for temporary child support before the divorce is settled can ensure your child’s basic needs are met, including food, clothing, housing, daycare, and medical expenses. A family law attorney from Going and Plank can mediate a separation agreement and can also lead you through the processing of filing with the courts for temporary support and custody orders.
Mistake #3: Forgetting About Investments and Retirement Funds in Divorce Settlements
While most people give a lot of consideration to the what will happen to their home, their children, and their property in a divorce, many forget to consider the division of non-liquid assets such as pensions, 401ks, 403bs, IRAs, life insurance, brokerage funds, and stock option plans. All retirement, investment, and insurance assets are communal property and should be addressed in a divorce settlement.
Once the division of assets is decided, these types of transfers can be complex and require a thorough understanding of divorce and tax laws in Pennsylvania. Some funds can be transferred tax and penalty-free with a certified divorce decree, with assets require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order in order to allow tax and penalty-free transfers. Contact Going and Plank to help you identify and assess all of your spouse’s assets, and to manage the distribution of assets in ways that make sense with your goals.
Mistake #4: Guessing Your Spouse’s Financial Assets
In Pennsylvania, there is a commitment to the protection of the family unit, but, unlike some other states, Pennsylvania divorce laws do not mandate a 50-50 split of assets. Instead, the courts consider a number of factors when dividing assets, including the length of the marriage, amount of assets, age, lifetime earning abilities of each spouse, and other factors. The first step to determining how assets will be divided is to identify all marital assets including bank accounts, investments, trusts, insurance value, retirement funds, business valuation, and more. The Pennsylvania Rules for Discovery in Domestic Relations Matters allow for the process of identifying, qualifying, and determining the value of all marital assets. However, some people try to hide or divert funds to avoid sharing them in a divorce. While some people believe that hiding net worth only comes into play with high-income families, in reality, people of all income levels can try to hide revenue, ownership, shares in companies, retirement funds, or other assets in a variety of ways. Many times the other spouse may not be aware that these funds or interests even exist. A family law attorney from Going and Plank can search for these types of assets and ensure that you obtain a fair and complete assessment.
Mistake #5: Delaying Custody Agreements
When there are children involved, it’s important to think through shared custody arrangements early, even before your spouse has moved out. Using a lawyer as a mediator not only diffuses emotional reactions, it also gives you access to an experienced advisor who can tell you what is “normal,” what is unusual, and how other families manage shared custody and child support. Of course, every situation is different, and “normal” may not be right for your family. Contact us at Going and Plank to explore out your options, to help you compare custody arrangements, and to formalize your agreements in ways that are legally binding.
Mistake #6: Not Taking Social Media Seriously During Your Divorce
While social media has become an important part of many people’s lives, it can also hurt you during a divorce proceeding. Sharing your exploits, adventures, or otherwise trying to communicate that you are not hurting emotionally or financially from your divorce may feel empowering at the time, but those posts can work against you in court. During separation and divorce, it’s wise to reduce the amount of personal information you share about yourself on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This is not a good time to use social media to tell others about what you do with your time, where you’re going, who you spend time with, or even where you vacation. A family law attorney from Going and Plank can advise you on the best approach for your situation.
Mistake #7: Putting off Meeting with an Experienced Divorce Attorney
Whether you call them family law attorneys or divorce lawyers, this is the time to work with an attorney who specializes in divorce law to protect your interest and the interest of your dependents. At Going and Plank, we can help you during the separation and divorces process and can continue to represent you as you reevaluate custody agreements, child support, and alimony down the road. When you talk to our team at Going and Plank, we’ll help you understand the process, make sure you do everything needed to protect yourself, your assets, and the life you’ve built for yourself and your family. Once you file for divorce, a divorce lawyer will make sure you understand your options before you make important decisions. We’ll help you manage filing deadlines, help identify, and uncover, your spouse’s assets, advise on custody agreements, help you understand child support and alimony options, and help you deal with Protection From Abuse (PFA) filings.
While your finances may seem uncertain when filing for divorce, we’ll work with you to understand costs and fees and make sure that our services are formatted in ways that won’t cause undue financial stress. For many of our clients, our divorce negotiation services end up saving them money in the form of more favorable settlements. Contact us today to explore your options, and to talk more about your personal situation.