You're going to get a lot of advice about what to do and when.  But, what about what not to do? 

DMK put together a list of 25 things to avoid based on common scenarios of those who have been through divorce.  Hopefully sharing these blunders will help readers like you avoid the same! 

Is there something that happened to you in a divorce that you think others should avoid?  Share the details at the end of this article!

Disclaimer: The content in this article is not professional advice.  No two divorces are the same and each state has differing laws.  Consult professionals in your state for advice relevant to the subject matter.  

25. I moved out before I knew the law

" I separated before I consulted an attorney and my wife sued me on the grounds of abandonment."

Unless your safety or the safety of others is at risk, consult a local attorney in your jurisdiction or locate up-to-date information regarding local divorce laws before you separate.   In addition to abandonment, there may be numerous other legal ramifications to leaving that may result in your spouse having certain advantages resulting in his/her attainment of a better financial outcome.


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24.   I got pregnant

"I got pregnant and my spouse wouldn't agree on anything even after two attempts at mediation (my son is almost 3 and my divorce is still pending)."

Getting pregnant while in the process of divorce may have legal consequences and certainly emotional ones.  If you're still negotiating your terms of the settlement agreement with your spouse your news of a new bambino from a relationship outside the marriage could upset your spouse and cause him to be less reasonable when trying to reach an agreement.  Remember, laws are state specific so check with a local court or attorney for information regarding legal ramifications of pregnancy after your divorce is filed.  Some states do not allow divorce if a spouse is pregnant.  Also, if the pregnancy resulted from a physical relationship between both spouses following separation, it may be viewed by the court as an attempt to reconcile and the judge may delay or not grant the divorce.  There are certainly more legal drawbacks and possibilities, but you get the point.  Best to avoid a bundle of joy when you're seeking a bundle of assets.


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23.  I slept with my soon-to-be ex

"My ex and I slept together while separated.  He immediately told his attorney.  It delayed my divorce which gave him a strategic advantage related to upcoming changes in his employment.  I realized his only motivation was financial."

It may seem harmless and safer than sleeping with someone else, but sex with your spouse during separation could make things a lot more difficult.  Depending on state laws, there may be legal consequences.  If the judge doesn't feel your marriage is irretrievably broken due to your physical relationship he may delay your divorce.  Manipulative spouses may do this to delay for a variety reasons.  They may also use romance and sex to incent you into being more amenable when negotiating.  You may think you know your spouse, but divorce brings out the worst in some people and the vulnerabilities in others.  Sex with the ex is not worth the risk.  It just makes the process more complicated, emotional and confusing for everyone.


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22.  My dad didn't update his estate plan


"My dad never changed his will or healthcare directive when he divorced his third wife.  She made medical decisions I knew he wouldn't have wanted and got nearly half of his assets when he died."

Nobody wants their ex deciding when to pull the plug or any other medical decisions.  Nor would most of us want our ex to get what we designated them in a will created when married.   Failing to update important documents in your estate plan may put your loved ones in a terrible situation upon your illness and provide for someone through an outdated will that you have otherwise severed your legal relationship.  Some states revoke the rights of the ex to any gifts, bequests in your will or right to act as your executor.  But, your state might not.  So get informed regarding the laws and consult your estate planner for assistance.  Some common documents in your estate plan to update, terminate and/or newly create include: Last Will and Testament, Healthcare Directive (Living Will or Advanced Directive), End-of-Life-Plan, Guardianship Over Minor Children, Power of Attorney.   


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21.  I settled before I knew the law

"My spouse was being so unusually cooperative on preliminary issues that when it was my turn to bend, I just agreed to his demands.  I was later advised that I had rights that actually made his concessions irrelevant while mine were significant relinquishments."

Making reasonable concessions for the sake of saving money on legal expenses is smart.  But, making an agreement before you speak to a reputable attorney and/or understand the law as it applies to your case may have big consequences.  You may find you are entitled to more than you think if your case were to go to trial.  If it's like most, it will be settled out of court, but getting informed gives you some assurance that you aren't settling for less than you deserve or holding out for more than a court would likely award.


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20.  I let my lack of emotion take control


"I thought I was in control of my emotions during the divorce process.  Instead my indifference made it pretty easy to give my wife everything she wanted.  I wish I would have realized my lack of concern was as as detrimental to my decision making as extreme emotions.  I just wanted her out of my life.  But, I shouldn't have given her more than she was entitled."

We commonly remind readers not to allow emotions to take control, but apathy (lack of interest or concern) and impassivity (lack of feeling or showing emotion) can be just as damaging.  The key is to not let your emotions, or lack thereof, influence important decisions.   It's not wise to give in and give up too much or spend thousands on divisions of hundreds.  You may want to amicably settle your divorce, but being all sunshine and butterflies when coming to an agreement may lead to regrets later.  You may also regret wasting money or time on things just to make a point or to stick it to your spouse.  You need a clear understanding of the law, a detailed plan and reasonable expectations of a fair settlement.   When you begin to get derailed, regroup with your advisors and make any needed adjustments to your plan or expectations, when applicable.  If things still don't get moving in the right direction, a mediator may be advised. 


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19.  I agreed to take an asset with a high tax liability 


"My ex and I came up with our own settlement agreement and had an attorney file the necessary paperwork.  Our divorce was completed for less than $1500 and only took 3 months.  A year later I realized an assignment of a seemingly equal valued asset for one I gave up to him in our agreement left me with a tremendous tax liability upon its sale.  However, the asset he requested, and we assigned to him had none.  Had I known this I wouldn't have agreed to divide our marital assets that way as it ended up costing me nearly 40% of my profits from the sale.  Not knowing something so important meant my divorce at $1,500 was no bargain to me!"

You should know the tax liability, value and details of each asset before coming to any agreement so that all factors are considered.  Some possible factors will include, but aren't limited to tax liability, maturity dates, appraised value, risk and potential for growth under normal market conditions.  If taxes and investments aren't your thing, then consider hiring experts to evaluate your portfolio and tax liability.  Spending a little now may save you thousands later!  Get to know the various ways to come to a fair division of assets with less variables related to tax liability and possibilities for future loss or growth.  Also, make sure you understand tax laws related to how you should file your return while in the process of divorce and how the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 could affect your decisions regarding support and tax liability.


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18.  I forget to update, change and consult


"Our divorce went through so fast I didn't realize all the things I should have done before my divorce was completed.  It caused me a great deal of headache I could have avoided if I knew the best time to complete these tasks.  Also, based on my delay in making these changes, a portion of my benefit from my term life insurance policy would have gone to my ex instead of 100% to my son if something happened to me."

It's not required to change your name but doing so before your divorce is completed may make it much easier than doing so afterward.  In most cases, your divorce attorney can help you or direct you to the right authority.  Make sure you also contact the Social Security Administration once your name is changed to get a revised card for tax, employment and identification purposes.  Disclose any insurance policies to your attorney and/or courts.  Understand the laws and/or discuss the timing of updating your beneficiaries on any life insurance plans and/or investments with a reputable, local attorney and your life insurance agent.  Find out ownership rights and any other pertinent facts regarding your policies. Term life insurance plans are often treated as separate property and therefore may easily be forgotten documents to amend when in the process of divorce.  Whole, universal or any other life insurance plans that build cash value may be considered as assets and subject to the division of marital property, but also should be reviewed for possible modifications.  Finally, determine how federal and state laws affect you or your spouse's health insurance coverage changes following divorce.  If applicable, find out when to contact your employer's human resource department regarding your divorce as a qualifying life event for the purpose of making changes to your benefit plan such as health insurance and/or changes to your beneficiaries of your 401k. 


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17.  I paid capital gains tax that could have been avoided


"Within 18 months of buying a fixer upper, my wife and I decided to divorce.  We both agreed the house was too much for either of us and after some cosmetic improvements the home had enough equity to make it worth selling.  The home went under contract in 2 days and closed 4 weeks later with a profit of over $65,000.   Had we consulted with a tax and legal professional first we would have realized our tax liability was nearly half of our profit.  What hurt worse was that we would have had $0 liability had we waited just 5 months more and met the capital gains tax break requirements."  

While this blunder could also be covered in #19, it's important enough to be covered independently.  There are some concessions in the tax code regarding divorce, but capital gains tax on the sale of a home still applies unless you meet the criteria set forth by the IRS to avoid it.   There are also consequences for the leaving spouse if the couple chooses not to immediately refinance or sell the home before the divorce is granted.  Most family law attorneys will not provide tax advice so consult the IRS or a tax professional for more information.


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16.  My wife wanted a house I couldn't afford

"My former wife was insistent on keeping our home even though she had no plans to find a new job that could increase her income to afford it. The home was more than I could afford with my own smaller residence.  We tried to settle outside of court and were successful on every other issue but the house.  She was convinced a judge would see it her way.  He didn't.  We eventually went to court on that specific issue and the judge ordered the sale of the home." 

Like many terms that need to be settled in a typical divorce, if this same scenario in another case or state went before a different judge, the outcome may have been different.  The point is that the best way to ensure you have some control over the division of assets is to come to an agreement with your spouse outside of court.  Now, regarding whether to keep or sell the marital home- It's never a good idea to keep a home you are unable to afford now and in the future.  If you think keeping your home is in your children's best interest and/or tax liability too high or real estate market too slow to sell, the solution is to immediately find a way to increase the household earnings or decrease your monthly payment(s) and expenses in order to rectify current or future financial shortcomings.  Not keeping your home does not mean you should necessarily give up your fair portion of equity (when applicable), just understand the risks of taking responsibility with the long-term intent to keep something you can't afford.  Seek local professional advice from real estate agents/brokers, mortgage lenders (when applicable), attorneys, appraisers and tax advisors to make the most informed decision possible about what to keep, when to sell and possible alternatives.  


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15.  I undervalued my parenting skills


"My daughter was so angry all the time but when I tried to reach out to her, she was rude and contentious.  She began to ignore my rules and lie to me.  My ex was incredibly unsupportive and undermined my decisions and choices as a parent.  I let my low self-esteem and value as a parent get in the way of what I knew was wrong.  She went through a period in her life that could have been avoided had I addressed the problems as I would have before my divorce."

If your child is more sullen or angrier than usual and/or demonstrating odd behavior, stay involved even when they push you away. Young adults are especially vulnerable.  They commonly assert their independence from their parents even in nuclear families (households where two parents live), making a divorce a perfect platform for defiant and/or withdrawn behavior.  It may start when faced with an unpleasant atmosphere from argumentative spouses before separating.  As the divorce progresses and parental communication decreases, boundaries may be crossed, and relationships further strained.  The teen may become more distant and confrontational when one or both parents try to maintain parental control.  Children of all ages may go through similar emotional destress, but teenagers have more opportunity to distance themselves due to extra-curriculars, part-time jobs, peers and ability to drive.  The problem can easily become a rift in your child's development.  If it continues it may create wakes in their life that can result in greater detriment or loss than your marriage.  So don't give in or give up even when your child pushes you away!  Instead, consider counseling and peer support groups.  When you do, don't assume the problem is fixed.  Stay involved!  


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14.  I thought my daughter was on my side

"It wasn't until my daughter was in counseling and I was invited to a few sessions that I realized some of my actions and words about her mother damaged our relationship.  It seemed obvious once confronted, but before then I thought the things I said and did were okay due to a mutual feeling we had about her mom.  If I'm honest, I guess thinking my daughter was on my side gave me assurance my divorce was the right decision. Only problem was, I forgot I was the parent, and my daughter didn't need to take sides.   As a co-parent, I should have been committed to helping her maintain a healthy relationship with her mom, instead I took pride in their relationship dismantling after our divorce.   Later my daughter admitted she took issue about me with her mom also.  Lesson learned.  Divorce taught me a lot about parenting, I just wish my daughter didn't suffer for it."    

Your goal as parent is to ensure your child has the best upbringing possible with two parents who love him/her.  Regardless how bad your spouse has been to you, how much you have suffered individually and how much he/she has remained a shining light in your child's eyes or a mutual problem for both of you, don't share much with your children regarding the problems in your marriage or wrongs of their other parent.  Nor should you share your opinions about him/her.  It works backwards in that every word you say will literally stack against you.  It can either cause the other parent to seem more wonderful to your child or cause confusing feelings or even guilt when your child spends time with either of you.   It's a wedge you create for yourself that potentially never gets diminished.  Instead, have faith that your child is capable of forming his/her own opinion and smart enough to realize any shortcomings your former spouse demonstrates to your child, you or others.   If your child begins to see the other parent for the same person you believe him/her to be, tread lightly and perhaps seek family counseling to explore the concerns and problems together.


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13.  I opened an account with money earned while married


 "I was trying to get prepared before my separation for the changes that were about to commence when I divorce.  I began depositing money into an account I opened in my name only from money obtained from our joint checking account funded by my husband's income.  My attorney advised me that every dime of it was still subject to the division of marital property."  

Speak with your attorney and/or understand the laws before opening any new accounts or obtaining new loans.  This includes revolving credit, personal loans, investment, retirement, checking, savings, etc.  You will likely establish your own accounts during your separation, but make sure nothing could be considered hidden.  Don't give your spouse a reason to appeal the judgement when your divorce is complete.  


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12.  I dated before I was divorced

"I dated when I was almost done with my divorce because I was so hurt about how my spouse had treated me.  When someone took interest in me, I felt needed and appreciated.  I didn't hide it because I think, in a way, I wanted my husband to be jealous.  I wanted him to realize what he lost.  But all it did was incite his need to retaliate in negotiations.  He wouldn't agree to mediation until it was ordered and our divorce cost thousands more to complete.  While I don't feel it ethically wrong to date when I did, waiting a couple months would have diminished the bill for my boost in self-esteem by thousands."

Regardless of the legal implications (and there may be some) as well as potential to interfere with negotiations of your settlement, dating during your separation is often premature.  That being said, it's important to mention, many people do.  When divorces take longer than average, the incidence of dating while separated is reasonably high.  But, with the average divorce taking about one year to complete, most of us are not emotionally available until well after the divorce to date.  It's a choice only you can make, but if you do, follow some simple rules to avoid the least negative repercussions.  Discuss dating with your attorney to get his/her input on any legal setbacks and let him/her know about any relationships that are or could be perceived as physical.  Let your attorney know about any relationships, physical or otherwise, that could be perceived as the cause of your marriage's end, as it may be considered grounds for divorce. Don't bring "friends" or dates around your children or mutual friends before you divorce.  Don't flaunt or otherwise use your dating partner(s) to illicit a reaction from your spouse.   Don't bring your dating partner or friend to court, mediation, collaborative sessions and/or arbitration meetings.  Don't date anyone who would negatively affect your obtaining custody of your children.  Don't date anyone who has involvement with illegal activity or drug use.  Don't post or allow others to post anything about your dating life on social media. Don't modify visitation, cancel or reschedule assigned time with your child to go on a date.  Determine any legal complications of moving in with anyone until your divorce is complete.


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11.  I blabbed to the wrong person

"All I did was tell a friend that I was requesting sole physical custody because I was considering an eventual move out of state to be closer to family.  When I brought up my interest in sole physical custody with my spouse and he was fine with it because he traveled a lot for work anyway.  Once we sat down with a mediator to put the entire agreement together, he said he never agreed to that custody arrangement and said he was actually seeking a new position with his employer that would not require as much travel.  Confused, I later asked my friend if she told anyone of my intentions and she said she didn't know she shouldn't!?"

Confiding in some trusted friends and family members may be a helpful coping mechanism during a difficult transition like divorce.  But take caution.  Some people are ignorant to the process of divorce and/or are just not trustworthy enough to wager a good outcome of your case on their confidences.  Talk at your own risk, but we won't say "we told you so" because it's next to impossible not to blab a little.  Some spouses admitted they couldn't even trust their own parents or siblings with details.  Just to give you an idea of the sensitivity of every word you say and who you say it to.  Divorce is a legal proceeding, treat it that way.  


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10.  I ignored my emotional well-being

"I was so emotionally overwhelmed during my divorce that I made decisions that later made my life a living hell.  After several years, I learned stress mitigation techniques that changed my life.  While I accept the things that can't be undone, had I addressed these issues during my divorce, when I needed them, most managed the most, I may have lessened the turbulent after-divorce period of time in my life."

Don't ignore your emotional well-being.  Emotional divorce and legal divorce are two different things.  Many ignore their emotional reconciling following their divorce and only acknowledge the legal stuff.  Processing your feelings before, during and after divorce is essential to your health, individual happiness and relationships.  Seek traditional help such as counseling, therapy, medical intervention as needed.  Also consider alternative methods and activities like cardio, meditation and yoga to relieve stress, anxiety and feelings of sadness.


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9.  I failed to disclose relevant information to my attorney

"I had an affair with someone early in my marriage that I still had a non-physical relationship at the time of my separation.  I had no idea my wife knew and had proof of my affair.  I didn't bring it up since I honestly felt like it was too long ago to matter.  Had I told my attorney in advance it's possible we could have avoided court and saved myself a good deal of money and embarrassment."

You should disclose to your attorney any issues about you that may affect your case or request for custody.   Don't lie to your attorney about anything: documented behavior (social media, digital communication), past problems of significance, drug or alcohol abuse, affairs, relations that affected your marriage, medical problems to include psychological or psychiatric treatment or diagnosis, current therapy or counseling, criminal history, current charges, etc.  Don't forget to tell your attorney about all assets, debts, income, expenses, trusts, businesses, separate property, etc.  Anything. 


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8.  My husband purchased a gift for someone with our money

"My spouse gave his father a new car before our divorce.  Some months after our divorce I found out my ex sold the car and I suspected foul play.  Based on this and other information I obtained with the help of a private investigator, I felt I had enough to pursue the matter legally.  When confronted, my ex agreed to terms we presented him to avoid pursuing the case. "

Have you ever watched crime shows and thought the criminal was a total idiot for not realizing he/she would get caught?  Well don't be that idiot.  Each spouse must disclose all assets, income, debts and expenses.   Determine applicable laws and/or consult a reputable, local attorney regarding large purchases or the purchase or receipt of gifts before or after separation. Hiding assets could be considered willful nondisclosure or possibly contempt of court.  While no two cases are the same, the legal system is relatively good at recognizing common routes to hiding assets.  It helps when each spouse maintains watchful diligence of each other's actions.


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7.  I thought I could change my divorce judgement.

"My husband and I completed our divorce with little legal help.  I assumed changes could be made later.  After about two years I determined our agreement regarding a specific high valued asset what was wrong based on our calculations.  I brought it to his attention, but he was unwilling to amend the agreement.  I consulted an attorney only to find out that I had relatively no chance of recovering the asset or a portion of its worth regardless if my ex received a better than half portion of our property."

Don't assume you can easily modify your judgement.  Modifications may be relatively straight forward when both spouses agree to the changes or complicated or impossible depending on the reason for request and terms you wish to modify.  Most circumstances won't necessarily be foreseen at the time of the original settlement or ruling.  Assuming you can settle your division of assets with the intent to go back next month and change your decree is a bad idea.  Understanding the law and consulting a reputable, local attorney before coming to an agreement will help you avoid this common misunderstanding.  So, make an agreement that you feel you can stick with in good faith unless a significant change occurs.  That significant change may be illness, employment transfer, loss of job, etc.  Remember, modifications usually only address custody and support, not the division of assets.  


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6.  I did something that affected the judge's decision

"I didn't know some pictures of me blowing off steam at a bar with my friends were posted on Instagram®.  But my wife's cousin saw the pictures which made it look like I was doing something I wasn't.  The pictures were used against me in a custody hearing.  I never go out and my wife knows the pictures aren't really representational of me as a parent or my character in general.   But she used them anyway. To make matters worse, there were also some embarrassing text messages where my reaction was equally damaging.  It's really not like me, but the judge didn't really seem to care."

Normal or not, the judge will consider these types of actions.  So, don't do anything risky, illegal or stupid.  It can give your spouse a significant advantage.  Also, if it goes to court, know that some judges can be extremely conservative and what seems fine to you may be considered unacceptable to the court, so be on your best behavior.


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5.  My spouse new how to upset me 


"My wife was really good at saying things to get me riled up.  No matter how hard I tried to let things slide, she'd always find a way to make me look like a jerk.  Finally, I realized I needed to completely abstain from any in-person communication to avoid verbal confrontations.  The longer we were apart, the more dysfunctional I realized we had been and incompatible we were as a couple.  Years later, we have both matured quite a bit and are on good speaking terms, but I am thankful I had enough sense to distance myself when I did.  Had I not, I doubt we would have the improved communication as co-parents we have today."

Sometimes a life event like divorce just brings out the worst in people.  They do and say things that are hurtful and feel better about it if they can get you to behave poorly also.  Don't get drawn in by passive-aggressive people. You need to find the resources needed to cope with manipulative spouses.  Argumentative people are equally challenging. They use words, behavior and demands to pull you into an argument.  Getting you to lose control is a stimulant for some people.  This type of spouse could make coming to a settlement agreement without help, like a mediator or legal advisor, a challenging experience.  To keep them from pulling you into their craziness avoid them as much as possible outside of court, mediation or collaborative meetings. 


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4.  Don't ignore the liability of digital communication

"My wife joined a dating site that I also joined.  I read her profile and she listed a new career, which was news to me.   I hired a private investigator to determine if she was working again.  He obtained proof that she was working and being paid in cash.  Had she not put that information on her profile, I would never have known."

Don't text, email, chat, post, create detailed profiles or anything you don't expect your spouse's legal team to use against you or the court to see.  Consider it forever.  Even if you erase digital communication, it may still be retrievable.  Also, remember Snapchat® messages can be saved via screenshots, so use caution when thinking your digital footprint is here today and gone tomorrow.


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3.  My wife tried to sell protected property

"My wife tried to sell my fishing boat to get back at me.  To stop the sale, I had to get a seizure before judgement.  It worked and I'm glad because she wasn't asking enough for the boat anyway.  We ended up selling it shortly after for a lot more and splitting the proceeds."

Get to know the laws or consult a reputable, local attorney regarding the removal of anything considered movables (furnishings, artwork, appliances, electronics, etc.) from the home without written proof substantiating your spouse knows and approves your possession of the property.  In most cases, spouses are allowed to take personal items, sentimental items and things used for work.  These items may include: their own clothes, jewelry, work related furnishings and work computer, hobby items or collections.  They may not take items that would cause the staying spouse to fail to maintain a household.  But they may take things to setup their own household.  It's also best not to separate until you have everything you want to take and copies of all financial and important documents to avoid making arrangements later which could result in a judge's involvement.  This means consult your attorney and/or understand the law before you separate to avoid regrets and mistakes.  An attorney will advise you of what you need from your spouse before you remove anything from your home, including yourself.


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2.  I was misinformed about Temporary Custody Orders entered into my case

"My attorney sent me the Temporary Custody Order regarding my case.  It was confusing and so I asked a friend who had gone through divorce a year earlier to take a look.  She didn't interpret them correctly and misinformed me.   I panicked and worried senselessly all weekend long. Monday I contacted my attorney and she cleared up the misunderstanding.  Had I waited to talk to my attorney in the first place I would not have caused myself so much stress!"

Friends, family and online resources should never be used in place of professional advice.  Every state has its own laws and each case is different.  While DMK provides some state information and information to help you become a more informed legal consumer, there is no substitute for local legal advice, information provided by the court system where you plan to seek your divorce or state government resources.  


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1.  I allowed my husband to intimidate me regarding custody

"My husband said he would use my history of depression to seek sole physical custody of my children if I didn't give up alimony and a significant portion of my share of the equity in our home.  My depression was under control through medication, but his threat still concerned me.  My attorney told me my husband had a slim chance of winning, but I was too scared, so I agreed to the concessions.  Now, I have physical custody of my children but after two years I can barely afford to keep a roof over our heads."

Using custody, visitation or anything involving your children to get your spouse to agree to specific terms involving assets or unrelated terms certainly does not put a child's best interest first.  Children are the ones that are entitled to time spent with each parent during separation or after divorce, not the other way around.  Taking that from them for any benefit to yourself puts your interests ahead of theirs. If you're on the other side of that situation the key is to have confidence in your attorney's advice about how to proceed when negotiating with such a person.  You may not know how a judge will rule, but a good attorney will give you the best shot at ensuring you did everything possible to protect yourself and your family.  If you don't trust your attorney, you should seek a second legal opinion or locate a new legal advisor.

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