Unfortunately, divorce is a common issue many couples deal with today. In the State of Florida, our firm deals with divorces on a daily basis.
Although no two couples are the same, many make the same mistakes prior to filing for divorce in Florida.
Here are some of the most common mistakes:
1. Equitable Distribution Isn’t Always 50/50…
One common mistake people make before getting a divorce is going in with the expectation that equitable distribution is purely 50/50. Equitable distribution is any of the assets or debts that were incurred during the marriage that is considered marital. Those are distributed one way or another through a divorce.
For example, if you have a car or a house that is considered “marital”, then this can be distributed through the divorce. Similarly, credit card debt or business debt are also distributed through a divorce.
The truth is that there is actually a number of statutory criteria that go into the formula for equitable distribution. Although the premise is that things are all 50/50, it’s important to remember that things may move around, especially if the case involves alimony. As a result, equitable distribution may end up become offset by alimony.
2. Keeping a Joint Bank Account
Another common mistake people often make prior to filing for divorce is not opening a separate bank account. If a divorce in the future is possible, then it’s important to open a separate bank account. That way, one partner can control his or her own assets going into the divorce. This is especially important for a non-wage earner or lesser-wage earners who might fight for relief.
In the State of Florida, our circuit and in neighboring judicial circuits typically require the parties to mediate before a temporary relief hearing. Temporary relief ensures that the higher earner or the party with more assets supports the other party in terms of alimony, child support, and litigation while the divorce is in progress. This means that the higher-earning party is potentially responsible for paying attorney’s fees and forensic accounting fees.
3. Not Taking Pictures
If a partner believes divorce is in his or her future, then it is in his or her best interest to take pictures of everything in the house, the marital home, or any properties, as well as any type of personal property. This can include any vehicles, collections, memorabilia, heirlooms, and so on.
Taking pictures of these items will ensure that there’s a proper memorialization of what the actual assets were. Therefore, it is easier for an attorney to make an argument of the status of that specific asset was at the time of the divorce.
4. Disorganized Financial Documents
In many divorce cases, financial documents or disclosures are used as leverage. We call this “mandatory disclosure”. These documents can include the following:
- Bank statements
- Retirement accounts
- Tax returns
The mandatory disclosure requires various documents. Therefore, any document that has any type of assets or liabilities listed in them could be considered mandatory disclosure.
Therefore, it’s important to get your hands on all financial documents prior to filing for divorce. If you’re able to get those documents and review them and talk with your attorney about it well in advance of the divorce process and the settlement occurs, then the individual’s best interest can be determined.
We understand that getting these documents well in advance can be difficult. In many cases, the other partner doesn’t want to put in the effort to get them. So, having these in hand upfront is huge.
5. Spending Money in Anticipation of Divorce
Another common mistake people make is worrying about the dissipation of assets. In many cases, a partner will spend a bunch of money in anticipation of a divorce without thinking there will be any consequences. However, this could be considered an offset in the divorce.
Of course, there are some exceptions. For example, if a husband or wife starts a business and partner, the business fails, then this isn’t necessarily considered dissipation of assets. What would be considered dissipation of assets is a partner going to Las Vegas and gambling a bunch of money?
All in all, Florida state law will not reward somebody who’s anticipating divorce to spend money rather than give it to their spouse.
6. Being Too Conservative with Money
On the other hand, there’s also the mistake of being too conservative and not realizing that business and other financial investments are not necessarily considered to be dissipation of assets.
7. Moving Around Assets
Another mistake that people make before filing a divorce is believing that they can move around assets. This again refers back to the dissipation of assets prior to a divorce.
For example, if a married couple has a joint checking account with $50,000 in it, and then one of the parties takes all that money and puts it into an individual account or into a family member’s account, and then the couple files for divorce, the Court will catch up on this.
8. Mismanaged Expectations
Above all, one of the most common mistakes people make is misunderstanding the expectations of divorce. Many people will listen to their friends or family about what they should or shouldn’t do prior to a divorce.
Of course, divorce is always a challenge and an uphill battle, especially if it is contested, and children and/or alimony are involved. All these issues create friction, and friction requires working things out.
9. Being Unprepared—Physically and Emotionally
Most people are completely unprepared—physically and emotionally—to deal with a divorce. The number one best thing anyone can do is to try and emotionally prepare yourself as much as possible, and understand that it’s not necessarily a quick process or as quick as we might want it to be.
The Court system can take time, especially if a divorce is contested. The dockets and hearings schedules are often spaced out, depending on how busy the judges are. The important thing is to have your expectations in line.
10. Underestimating Time
In some cases, divorce can take months or even years, depending upon how combative and contested the divorce may be. Mediation can take several months in and of itself before the hearing can even occur.
The Courts do have a mechanism for parties who may be financially disadvantaged to be able to receive resources from the other party (also known as temporary relief, which we briefly discussed above) to be able to live and maintain the litigation while the divorce is pending. However, there is no guarantee as to how this works out.