Divorce Attorney Warns Of 5 Ways People Sabotage Themselves During A Split

Common ways people get in their own way, and how to avoid the temptation to make a mess of your case.

Blonde woman planning her divorce and about to sabotage herself Anna Nahabed via Shutterstock | TITUS GROUP via Canva

Going through a divorce is one of the most difficult, overwhelming, devastating, and debilitating events that anyone can experience in their lives. Two mental health professionals famously ranked the most stressful events a person can experience during their lifetime. Divorce ranked second behind the death of a child or spouse.

Given how difficult the process of divorce is already, you do not want to make it any harder than it has to be. Not unless you are a sadist or narcissist or perhaps someone who is fond of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees.


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Five things you should never do during divorce, no matter how tempting the may seem 

1. Publicly humiliate or intentionally hurt your spouse 

All fifty states in the union have now enacted laws that allow for a no-fault divorce. Nevertheless, some states, like New York for example, continue to allow parties to seek an at-fault divorce (such as one based upon adultery, cruelty, abandonment, etc.). However, these fault grounds are less frequently invoked and are discouraged by the judges handling such cases. Thus, it is not uncommon for judges and attorneys handling such cases to explain to the divorcing spouses that "fault doesn't matter anymore." 


While this may be a correct statement of the law, as it relates to the division of assets, spousal support, and even custody, do not underestimate the effect that adultery, abandonment or other forms of misconduct have upon the party who feels aggrieved by such conduct. This is especially true in a case where the spouse at fault publicly humiliates the other or causes such information to be made public.

A recent, contentious, New York divorce case involving billionaire John Paulson and his wife of twenty-five years, Jenny Paulson, makes this very point. According to Jenny, she found out that her husband had filed for divorce and run off with a woman half his age by reading about it on Page Six of the New York Post. The next day additional news reports and photographs made it clear that John had been involved with this woman for quite some time before the disclosure.

Since then, John and his girlfriend have been seen and photographed together, constantly, at various high-profile public events; they have announced their engagement and have announced their mutual desire to have children together - even though no divorce has been granted yet to either of the Paulsons. While John has offered Jenny millions and millions of dollars to settle the case, she has characterized his settlement offers are "demeaning and humiliating."


Said differently, Jenny is not settling this case without inflicting some measure of pain and retribution upon John because of the public humiliation she has had to endure at his hands. As a divorce litigant, you do not want to give the other side a further reason not to settle the case.

Couple has the same argument again when getting divorced Krakenimages.com via Shutterstock

Similarly, attempting to hurt your spouse's career out of anger or spite can also have untoward consequences. In a famous New York case, McSparron v. McSparron, the ex-wife held a news conference and disclosed information about the ex-husband's alleged criminal activity causing him to lose his job as an Assistant Attorney-General. The court subsequently eliminated his support obligation to her since he was no longer employed and could not find new employment. Was this moment of revenge worth the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in alimony? I think not.


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2. Belittle your spouse to their child or attempt to interfere with custodial access to the child

A divorce is personal between the parties, in more ways than one. Sometimes, parents forget that it is they who are the ones who are getting a divorce — not the child from the parent.

@themccabelife Keep your marriage concerns between you two, and a trusted friend or 2 or counselor. Don't bring your kids into it. Don't bash your partner to your kids. This is poison and is traumatizing to them.How do I fix my marriage? Marriage help Marriage counseling #relationships #Marriage ♬ original sound - Terry and Katie

Unfortunately, it is all too common for the parent who feels cast aside rejected, or demeaned to seek allies within the family, and paint the other parent as the villain. Some children are told "Your father doesn't care about us any longer" or "Your mom is crazy and needs help." Occasionally, children are advised that it is "alright" if they don't visit the other parent or stay over with them.


While there may be some temporary satisfaction in knowing that your children are aligned with you, such contentious cases wreak havoc on the children, especially where there is a disconnect between what the children hear and see and what the reality is about the other parent. Getting advice from a qualified mental health professional, divorce coach, or parenting coordinator for yourself and/or the children can help minimize the damage and emotional fallout for them in the aftermath of a divorce. 

Finally, most judges are keenly attuned to such conduct and react badly when they conclude that one of the parents is engaged in such behavior, often punishing that parent in the financial aspects of the case.

Mother is happy with child after getting divorced Simona Pilolla 2 via Shutterstock


3. Let anger get in the way of sound advice

It is difficult to make sound, prudent financial decisions in your divorce case in every instance, especially when you are feeling angry or taken advantage of by your spouse. 

Here are some keys to making smart decisions in your divorce case:

  • Take some time to think about the decision before acting. Rarely does the decision have to be made immediately. Don't send that angry email out until the next day, if at all.
  • Listen to your attorney, especially where the disagree with your position. If you have done your due diligence and hired the right attorney for your case (that is the subject of a whole other blog) then give a great deal of weight to their opinion, especially where they are aware of the judge's thinking on this subject. 
  • Focus on whether the outcome is good for you and your children — not simply whether it is bad for your spouse. Sometimes something can be good for both of you. 
  • Don't fall into the "if it's good for him it must be bad for me" syndrome.
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4. Try to 'win' your divorce 

Too many clients that I have met want to "win their divorce case." Sometimes they even ask me that question. "How many divorce cases have you won?" What does that even mean? What is winning your divorce — that you got more of the assets or square footage than the other side? That you got one more dollar than they did or more overnights/holidays with the children.

Divorce is not a board game and not a win/lose proposition. The best you can expect is to survive your divorce — to get past it with your sanity, integrity, personhood, financial independence, and important relationships intact. If you have put yourself in a position where you and your children can go on with your lives, that is as good as it is going to get. And that is a pretty good place to land.

5. Involve the Taxman in your divorce

My many years of experience as a Divorce Attorney have taught me that a considerable percentage of divorce cases involve unreported cash income received by one or both spouses. No one talks about it openly except when the divorce case starts. 


Now people want their fair share of all of the assets, including the cash in the shoebox, safe, safety deposit box, or accounts in the Cayman Islands. Apart from the ethical quandary faced by attorneys in helping the parties divide up unreported cash assets (the subject of another blog) some clients are tempted to use this circumstance as "leverage" to get what they want. "My husband has been hiding cash monies in his business or foreign bank accounts. He will have to settle with me or I will put him in jail."

Gavel and money rule when getting divorced RomanR via Shutterstock

My response is, "Well did you file joint tax returns throughout your marriage? If so, think adjoining jail cells." 


The only exception is if one of the spouses qualifies for "innocent spouse" relief (i.e. they did not know or have reason to know that there was unreported income — a high legal bar to clear. And even assuming that you can establish "innocent spouse protection" the IRS is going to impose the tax, interest, and penalties on the unreported income and seize assets and money from the parties who opened this Pandora's Box, thereby shrinking the assets to be divided by the parties. In this situation, the corollary to "you can't win your divorce case" is "but you can lose your divorce case" especially when you involve the IRS.

In summary, it is difficult enough to get through a divorce under the best of conditions. You do not want to add to the pain and misery. Avoiding these five critical mistakes will ensure that you end up with the best possible outcome for yourself and your family.

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Ronald Bavero is a divorce attorney, legal educator, and author of the critically acclaimed, five-star book, “An Elephant Doesn’t Marry A Giraffe – Everything I Learned As A Divorce Attorney.” He also maintains a website of information and valuable articles about the process of divorce and separation.