* And The Lives of Their Children
“Your life is a mess” isn’t something you’ll hear in court, but it’s an expression that people recognize. It means things are bad and are likely to stay that way for a while.
When people file for divorce, it’s usually after a lot of consideration, and sometimes after a lot of fighting. More often than not, both parties end up wanting to get through the process as quickly as possible, even if that means not getting what they want. You should take your time and make sure that you don’t complicate your life with hasty, hurried decisions. Here is a list of 10 messy situations and some tips to avoid them.
1. Permanent Alimony
Even though the legal term in Colorado is “spousal maintenance,” people still use the word “alimony” to refer to the payments one party makes to the other after a divorce. (This is different from child support, which we will cover in #7.) There are many variables that can and should come into play when deciding spousal support – length of marriage, ability of your spouse to make a living, the type of support provided during the marriage, etc. If you agree to a plan where maintenance payments are set by the court to continue in perpetuity and at a set amount – regardless of a change in income or job status of the payor – it can have long-lasting effects. Failure to allow for changes in work status or income is setting yourself up for disaster.
You could really make a mess of your divorce by negotiating spousal maintenance payments for yourself. These are negotiations that are difficult in the emotional turmoil of a divorce, even when the separation is amicable. The last thing you want to do is revisit that decision in the courtroom (sometimes years later), trying to argue your case. In this instance it helps to have an experienced attorney to assess the situation and protect you from a bad judgement – and in some cases protect you from yourself.
2. Accepting an Unfair Divisions of Assets and Debts
If you weren’t told there’d be math, you are in a lot of trouble when it comes to dividing your assets and debts after a divorce. While many people assume that assets and debts are a 50/50 proposition, that may not be the case. Colorado is an “equitable distribution” state, which seeks to divide the couple’s property in a fair manner. Keep in mind that “fair” does not mean “equal.”
Assets are typically categorized two ways – marital and non-marital. Non-marital assets are those acquired separately by each person before the marriage – even while living together. Marital assets are those procured during the marriage.
Debts, however, may not be as easily split. Where an asset is something you own outright and can be split however you agree to it, a debt may be taken out in both spouse’s names. Creditors do not know or care who is supposed to pay, they only care that they get paid. This means that if your ex gets the car but both of your names are on the lease, the car company may come after you if your ex doesn’t pay.
The best way to guard against debt issues is to pay off as much debt as possible before filing for divorce, and disclose all of your assets during the proceedings. Make a list of all property that you own both singly and together. Your credit report may also show “hidden” debts which your spouse may have entered into without your knowledge.
Avoid making a mess of your money situation after the divorce by being candid about your assets and debts when you come to the table to discuss terms.
3. Moving Out of the Marital Home
It’s common to want to move out of the shared home once divorce proceedings start. The tensions and unease that often accompany a breakup can seem unbearable, and the quickest way to relieve that feeling is to just get away.
Obviously, if there is an issue of domestic violence, you will need to keep yourself and children safe. This situation may require contact with the courts in order to legally remove the children from the home. Consulting an attorney will help you take the appropriate steps.
What people may not realize is that the court may see a move away from the house as establishing a pattern of behavior, possibly a move toward legal abandonment. If you can, it’s best to stay in the home until you are able to explain your situation to an attorney who can advise a course of action that protects your interests.
In short – don’t make a mess of your custody or assets by moving out of the marital home.
4.Taking The Mediator’s Lead
Most divorces require mediation, which is an option when both parties in the divorce are at ease around one another. Note that a mediator will not advocate for either party and cannot give you legal advice. Mediation happens outside of court, is not as formal as court proceedings, and is led by an independent third party whose objective is to reach a settlement. This last point is important to consider when entering into mediation because while mediators may have formal training, they are not necessarily bound to reach an equitable agreement. If one spouse is stronger and more persuasive, the settlement may favor that spouse. While resolution arrangements may require a judge to sign off, the judge usually takes the settlement as presented and is not obligated to review the mediated decision for fairness or equity.
It’s the mediator’s job to help you arrive at your settlement. It’s your job not to make a mess of it.
5. Believing Your Spouse Will Be Fair About Asset Division
As humans, we want to believe that someone we have spent years or decades with, had children with, weathered all sorts of storms with – will be understanding and charitable about the splitting up of marital assets. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard stories about one party taking advantage of the other, whether through outright concealment of assets, willful devaluation of possessions, or simply persuading the court or mediator that something is worth less than it actually is.
It may take years to realize that you haven’t gotten your fair share of the marital assets in the divorce settlement. Avoiding this mistake can cost money up front to hire an appraiser or valuation expert, but it can pay off handsomely not only in the equitable distribution of assets but also in the avoidance of future court costs.
6.Giving Up In The Custody Battle
When there are children involved in the divorce process, the emotional intensity of the proceedings can lead to poor decisions where custody is concerned. One of the most devastating choices people can make is to back down from a custody battle because of the real or perceived stress it is causing the children or your spouse. You may feel fed up with the process or angry with your spouse, but any impression by the court that you don’t want to be involved in your children’ lives can result in a custody decision that is unfavorable to you – if not now, then once tempers have cooled.
To avoid making a mess of the custody ruling and shutting your children out of your life, it is necessary to show that you care about the children by showing up to custody hearings, staying calm when tensions and emotions heighten, and staying involved in your children’s lives during the divorce process.
7.Accepting An Unfavorable Child Support Ruling
What qualifies as unfavorable will depend on the person on the other side of the ruling. If you have custody of the children, a suitable judgment would include enough money to provide for the children for as long as they are under your roof. For the payor, the non-custodial parent, favorable might mean paying just enough for the children’s well-being without paying what feels like extra money each month.
The concept of imputed income comes into play if you are the higher earner and expected to pay child support. The court may assess your skills and work situation and attribute a higher income based on that evaluation. For example, if you were to quit your job as the vice president of a company and go to work in a grocery store, the court may assign payments based on your salary as a vice president because you could still get a job with that level of pay.
If you are the payor, don’t make a mess of your life by becoming underemployed to get out of paying child support. And if you are the payee, make sure that you stand up for what’s right for you and the children. You still have a responsibility to them, and that includes a child support payment that will see to their well-being.
8.Assuming That The Court Is Looking Out For Your Best Interest
If you are working on your case without the help of an attorney, the court will hold you to the same standard as if you were a lawyer, according to the rules of civil procedure. You will be expected to file documents on time, present evidence and get it admitted for the record, attend hearings, call witnesses, cross-examine, bring expert witnesses if needed – the list goes on. Courts are busy and they have an obligation to keep cases moving, which means they don’t have time to hold your hand through the process. Their objective is to reach a ruling, not teach you how to file and litigate a divorce case.
Don’t mess up your divorce by expecting the court to take pity on you as a pro se litigant. Either make sure you and your spouse can handle the proceedings yourselves, or hire an attorney to represent you.
9.Choosing The Wrong Attorney
It’s fine to get information about attorneys from friends, family and co-workers, but every divorce case is different and what worked for others may not work for you. Look for these signs that you’ve found the “right” attorney:
- They have been practicing for a few years and have experience trying cases in court
- They work for a reasonably-sized law firm that has an administrative staff to support the case and provide backup attorneys if needed
- They are known and respected by their peers and the courts
- They work in your county
- They specialize in family law
Interview a few attorneys and see who you click with. While your attorney is not your therapist, you will be working very closely with them, and they will learn intimate details of your life. You need to feel that they will help you get the best settlement possible for yourself and for your kids.
A good attorney can help you avoid making a mess of your divorce and your life.
10. Assuming It’s Easy To Change Divorce Decrees
Understand that a divorce ruling is a matter of law, not just a suggestion. To change any part of the decree you will need to file paperwork to modify the ruling and have supporting evidence for the request. Circumstances can change, but the court will want to see a significant reason that you are appealing the original ruling. Your ex’s $1,000/year raise is not sufficient to petition the court for higher maintenance payments. The court will also want to see evidence of a good-faith attempt to resolve any issues before a motion for modification.
You can really screw up your divorce by running back to court to make little modifications to the original divorce arrangement. Work with an attorney to make sure you have all angles covered and make every effort to get the ruling right the first time.
Not every divorce has to be painful or difficult. If you choose to work with an attorney, call (303) 688-0944 to begin your free case assessment. If you choose to represent yourself, take heed of the above advice so you don’t make a mess of your future.