Divorce mistakes to avoid

divorce mistakes

Divorce is traumatic, but avoid these divorce mistakes to ease the journey  

Are you thinking about divorce? “Thinking about” is the operative word. Divorce is not something (most) people jump into, any more than they jump into marriage. The decision to divorce is often the end result of much soul-searching, usually a lot of arguing, and much pendulum-swinging “will we or won’t we?” thinking. Many couples go through a period of trying to repair the damage. This sometimes works. We know many couples who pulled themselves back from the brink of divorce and were able to recommit to their relationship, usually through hard work and good professional help. But sometimes divorce is the best outcome. Some marriages just weren’t destined to go the distance. If this sounds familiar, and you are seriously considering divorce, there are some mistakes that we as divorce attorneys see repeatedly. Your divorce will go more smoothly if you avoid these common divorce mistakes.

Hiring a divorce lawyer before you’re sure divorce is what you want

Many people make the mistake of using their divorce lawyer as a relationship counsellor. If you are considering divorce but haven’t reached the end of the road, work through the process in your head, with your partner (if you are able), or with a professional relationship counsellor. Once you instruct a divorce lawyer, you have entered a legal process, and it will have a way of dragging you along with it whether you are ready or not. There will be requests/demands for information from your spouse’s attorney. You will have to provide your attorney with documents. There will be deadlines. It’s a lot of work. If you have not finally decided to end your relationship and are using the divorce process as a way of making a decision, you will wind up spending a lot of money (that arguably could be better spent on therapy!) and you may end up getting a divorce you aren’t sure you want because the train has left the station and you’re on it, whether you like it or not.

Acting behind your spouse’s back

Speak with your spouse about the divorce. Don’t let the first they hear of it be when they are served a summons. However much your relationship has deteriorated, it is respectful to sit down with your spouse and discuss the future together. Find out what they want from the process and see where you can compromise.

Opting for the wrong divorce process

This is not a fatal mistake, and can be undone, i.e. changed. But before you jump into a DIY divorce, for example, to save money, are you sure you have the wherewithal to consider complex aspects like pension splitting? Is your divorce as simple as you think? Saving a few thousand rand now could cost you tens, if not hundreds, of thousands later. Equally, don’t assume a court case will give you the best outcome, even if your spouse is wealthy and you want to be sure of getting a good settlement. Contested divorces are always expensive and never pleasant. There are other ways to arrive at a fair and equitable divorce agreement. See Negotiating your divorce settlement. There are three types of divorce in South Africa: uncontested, mediated, and contested. (A DIY divorce is just an uncontested divorce where you file the papers yourself and don’t engage legal counsel; it is not a fourth type of divorce.) It’s important to understand what each involves in terms of time, cost, and emotional impact. Try for an uncontested divorce if at all possible.

Failing to get your documents in order

Even before appointing a lawyer, if you have made the decision to divorce, gather your financial documents, such as bank statements and insurance policies. Put them in a safe place, preferably where your spouse doesn’t have access to them. If they are electronic, and scattered across multiple files or locations, set up a secure folder and put everything in one place. This can be in the cloud. But note: keeping your financial information secure is not the same as hiding it! Don’t hide assets or try to dispose of them. It may be tempting to move assets “off balance sheet”, but it’s a bad idea. If a judge thinks you tried to deceive your spouse, the consequences could be serious. All we are recommending is that you can access your data when you need it, and your spouse can’t surprise you in court with your own information.

Accumulating debt

It’s better at this stage to pay down debt. It may be tempting to lumber your spouse with the debt, but if you are married in community of property it’s all marital debt. When you divorce, your debts will be split in the same way as your assets. All you will do is reduce your spouse’s available income for maintenance or child support.

Choosing the wrong divorce lawyer

There are different types of divorce lawyers. Some specialise in particular types of divorce, such as divorce across jurisdictions (“international divorce”). Others are “sharks” – the sort a celebrity might use to protect or attack significant assets. There is a place for aggressive divorce lawyers, but it’s not the way we practise law at SD Law. We pride ourselves on our high EQ, and we will seek to protect the interests of your family and enable you to divorce with dignity. Know what you need from your divorce agreement, and make sure your divorce lawyer is on the same page. For most people, an amicable settlement that respects both parties and allows them to move forward is more important than a combative, greedy settlement that leaves the other party emotionally and financially crushed. See Choosing the right divorce lawyer or family attorney in South Africa.

Cape Town family lawyer can help

If you are considering divorce and need legal advice, talk to our divorce attorneys. We’ll help you avoid divorce mistakes and work with you on the way forward. At SD Law we are known for our EQ and our sensitive approach to family law. We’ll handle your case with equal parts of compassion and efficiency. Contact Simon on 086 099 5146 or email sdippenaar@sdlaw.co.za for a discussion in complete confidence.

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The information on this website is provided to assist the reader with a general understanding of the law. While we believe the information to be factually accurate, and have taken care in our preparation of these pages, these articles cannot and do not take individual circumstances into account and are not a substitute for personal legal advice. If you have a legal matter that concerns you, please consult a qualified attorney. Simon Dippenaar & Associates takes no responsibility for any action you may take as a result of reading the information contained herein (or the consequences thereof), in the absence of professional legal advice.

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