Seven pitfalls to avoid during a divorce.

Signpost with Divorce, Custody, Split, Marital Home signs pointing right; Lawyers, Assets, and Settlement signs pointing left.

By Timothy Theissen, Matt Worth, Courtney Suhre, and Jessica Beauchamp

Strauss Troy’s Family Law Department has handled many divorce and dissolution cases, and over the years we have gained knowledge that can make a client’s divorce experience less difficult. The following are a few pointers that we have put together for our clients who are going through a divorce:

  1. Don’t cancel health insurance on your spouse. Sometimes clients believe it is appropriate to remove their spouse from their health insurance coverage before the divorce is finalized. Rarely do we agree. In most cases, it’s far better for your spouse to stay on your policy until your divorce is final. Why? Cancellation may make you look bad to the Court, and uncovered medical expenses incurred by the spouse may turn out to be marital debt, possibly exceeding the cost of the premiums that you saved. We generally recommend against removing your spouse from health insurance coverage, unless you get advice on the subject first.
  2. It is “your” divorce even if your spouse filed. Some people take the attitude that if the spouse filed for the divorce, they need not actively support the decision and will disengage from the case. This is not wise. It is your divorce, even if it was filed by your spouse. In your divorce, the Court will decide how much of the assets and debts are assigned to you, and make important decisions regarding your children. If you do not actively advocate for your position and rights in these subjects, you will be adversely affected. Always retain counsel promptly and stay engaged in the process to avoid costly mistakes.
  3. Do not have difficult conversations with your spouse within earshot of the children. It’s emotionally difficult for the children to hear their parents arguing. We advise our clients to manage communication with an estranged spouse so that the conversations, whether in person or by phone, are done outside the earshot of the children. Your children don’t need to hear what you’re saying to your spouse, or what your spouse is saying to you, and they should never hear derogatory comments that may occur during those conversations. Protect your children. Talk at times and in places where your children are not around to hear you. Children should respect both of their parents.
  4. Maintain a shared calendar of your children’s activities. Technology has significantly enhanced the ability for ex-spouses to communicate productively, with less emotional baggage. Many couples communicate better by email or text than by phone or in person, because of a breakdown in trust or demeaning attitudes and statements being made. If children are involved, it is important for both parents to know the schedule of activities. In addition to text and email, online calendars can be jointly accessed by both parents, who can enter activities and doctor’s appointments so both parties can be aware of the children’s activities. Online shared calendars can be a great tool for all parents.
  5. Expect taxes to be different after you are divorced. Many clients don’t anticipate the many tax changes that follow a divorce. In the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, there were significant changes that affect divorced parties. While the changes are too significant to begin to address in this short article, be aware that you cannot assume circumstances will stay the same. Make sure you get sound tax advice so you understand the changes that will take place after the divorce.
  6. Don’t spend more money on the fight than what you are fighting over. Because of the emotional aspects of a divorce, many clients are tempted to spend money in legal fees and other expenses fighting over things with value less than the cost of the fight. It makes no sense to spend $1,000 in legal fees to fight over an asset that is worth $500, and we strongly discourage this type of spending. While it may seem obvious, when emotions come into play, it can be especially tempting. Be smart; avoid that temptation.
  7. Change your beneficiary designations after the divorce. More than ever before, much of our clients’ wealth is collected in their retirement accounts, like 401k’s, IRAs and Roth IRAs. During marriage, a spouse is often named as the primary beneficiary. After the divorce, that no longer makes sense. When the divorce is underway or over, ask about your estate planning (will, trusts, life insurance, etc.), and include those assets as part of the discussion. With assets such as a 401k or life insurance policy, the recipient is by a beneficiary designation form. You will need to change it to remove your spouse; removal isn’t automatic.

If you would like to discuss your options for terminating your marriage, please contact a member of our team by calling 513-621-2120.