Thursday, November 1, 2007

Top Ten Mistakes Flordians Make In Divorce

Top Ten Mistakes People Make In Florida

I am learning that there are a lot of mistakes that people make when they are divorcing. These mistakes can cost you additional attorneys’ fees at best and total financial ruin at worst. Its important to be realistic when divorcing and to mitigate mistakes that can cost you time, money and the respect of your children. Here is a list of what I believe to be the top ten mistakes that people make when they are getting a divorce in the state of Florida.

1. Not Putting Children First- When parties think about their own best interests before their children’s best interest, impossible schedules are created, or a mother/father is blocked from time with the children, or even worse, a child is put in the middle of the divorce by being forced to choose sides. This does nothing but prolong the litigation process, cause undue stress on your children, and in the worst of cases, creates a divide between you and your child which may never be closed. Always put your kids first when you are divorcing. All other issues should be secondary.

2. Emotionally Attaching Yourself to an Asset- Some people want to keep an asset because it is tied to memories, or they want to keep it because they know that asset is important to their soon to be ex-spouse so they say that they want it out of spite. This accomplishes nothing other than creating attorneys fees. Fight for what is important and remember that stuff, is just stuff.

3. Keeping the House - Many people want to keep the house for a variety of different reasons. In order to keep the house, you have to buy the other person out of that asset. This is usually done by refinancing the house and tacking on that additional buy out money to your existing mortgage. What happens in some cases is that the home becomes a financial burden and the risk of ending up in foreclosure becomes very high. Therefore, only keep the house if you can financially afford to do so and is something that you can financially afford to do without the assistance of a great deal of child support and/or alimony.

4. Failure to Determine a Visitation Schedule - Sometimes I have clients who don’t want to set up a formal visitation calendar because they have a good relationship with the other party and don’t feel that a visitation schedule is necessary. What inevitably happens is that some time in the future this open visitation schedule, especially around the holidays, becomes the source of feuds between the parties as to who gets to spend time with the kids when. There should always be a bear minimum of visitation outlined in any Marital Settlement Agreement and the parties should work out their holiday schedules in advance so its clear who gets the kids and when. This helps mitigate problems if there is a dispute in the future as to who gets Christmas, etc.

5. Failure to Pay Child Support to State Agency- The more affluent a person is, the less likely they are to pay their child support through the state disbursement unit or via Income Deduction Order. If child support is not paid through the state, arguments can ensue as to whether certain funds are child support or payment for other child related needs which can be classified as a gift. If child support is paid through the state, the state keeps records of any arrears or extra payments which are made, so there should not be any ambiguities as to whether someone has paid their child support or whether there is any reason to grant someone a credit.

6. Failure to Specify Who Will Claim the Children on Taxes- This seems like a small problem, but it is very much an issue. When one party is paying child support, they are still able to claim their children on their taxes, despite the fact that the children primarily live with the other parent. Specifying who gets to claim the children as dependents helps insure that you don’t get audited by the IRS when you both attempt to claim the kids.

7. Failure to Properly Appraise Assets - Before you can go to Court and before you can agree to any form of settlement, you must know the value of your assets. If you don’t properly value your assets, you could end up with the short end of the stick property settlement wise. It is very important to make sure you know the real value of all of your assets.

8. Failure to Require a Life Insurance Policy- Child support and alimony, in most circumstances, make it possible for a party to live and care for themselves and their children. If the obligor dies when he/she still has an obligation to provide support, and if there is no life insurance policy in place, there are financially difficulties that arise from no longer receiving that support. If a life insurance policy is require, it insures that you will be protected in the event of the obligor’s untimely death.

9. Failure to Fight for Custody for the Right Reasons- This mistake comes in two forms. One in the negative, meaning people who fight for custody of their children for the wrong reasons, meaning out of spite, not taking into consideration the best interest of the child. This creates animosity from the other parent, additional attorneys’ fees, and in the end, you are probably going to lose. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to fight for custody unless you really believe that it is in your children’s best interest. On the flip side of the occasion, I sometimes have clients relinquish a custody battle because they don’t want to fight. If the children are truly better off with you, its important for you to fight the custody battle before the divorce is finalized. Once the divorce is final, you can only modify the custody issue if you show a substantial change of circumstances since entry of the Final Judgment that would warrant a change in custodial parent. It is much harder to win a modification of custody battle after a divorce is finalized.

10. Not Keeping the Lines of Communication Open with Your Soon to be Ex-spouse- There is no question that its hard to communicate with someone that you are divorcing, but if you are 100% closed off to the idea of communicating with your ex-spouse about division of assets, debts, property and your children, you WILL prolong the process. The more you are able to communicate the better chance you will have of completing the divorce process and moving on with your life. I always encourage my clients to speak with their spouse, with the rare exception when such communication will cause detriment to my client.

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