Bob was always claiming poverty during his divorce. In order to cut his expenses, without a word to me or his wife, he cancelled the collision insurance on his wife’s car. Of course, Bob had no luck - as soon as the insurance was cancelled, his wife had an accident.
Everyone, including me, tells you what you should do as you prepare for divorce. Seldom are you told about the things that you should not do until after you have done something wrong when hear something like: “I wish you had told me you were going to do that. I would have advised you not to.”
Ben Stevens and Dick Price have assembled a great list of 10 Things Not to Do When Starting a Divorce Case to which I add my thoughts.
1. Don’t destroy records, including emails and other electronic information.
Papers trails continue to exist even if you destroy your copies. Banks, financial institutions and even social networks keep records. If you posted something that is unfavorable, chances are spouse has a screenshot or a printout of it already. Destroying your copies of the records just makes it harder for you to get your hands on them.
2. Don’t clean out all the bank accounts.
Attempting to cut off your spouse of financially by closing out the bank accounts only ensures you will be in court sooner rather than later. As soon court hears that you emptied the accounts there will be an order restraining you from you from using the funds
3. Don’t hide assets.
See numbers 1 and 2.
4. Don’t cancel insurance, change beneficiary designations or run up debts.
In New York, there are specific prohibitions from doing so. Regardless, as illustrated in the above example, unilaterally making changes often backfires and ends up exposing you to greater liability and expense.
5. Don’t blow up and get angry with your spouse or make threats.
Aggressive behavior only leads to more conflict. Anger and threats don’t lead to compromise and reasonableness. Fighting costs more money.
6. Don’t hire the meanest lawyer in town.
Hiring an overly aggressive and litigious attorney only ensures that you will spend a lot of money contesting the divorce and depleting the marital estate. Impoverishing your spouse through needless litigation makes your attorney, not you, richer. The cost is not purely economic; your aggression will likely cause an aggressive response.
7. Don’t try to represent yourself.
Divorce in New York is complicated. There is no “one size fits all” divorce. If you are emotionally involved it is impossible to be mindful of strategy or to objectively set realistic goals. It is true, “Only a fool hires himself for an attorney.” Failing to retain an attorney can cost you dearly if you give up an asset or a right that you didn’t need to.
8. Don’t lie to your lawyer.
Facts that are damaging or embarrassing to you are going to come out in the divorce. It is certainly better that I hear them from you in the privacy of my office then in court.
9. Don’t lie to the judge.
If the judge finds that you lied or you are not credible on one issue, he/she may be inclined to not to believe anything you say. Not only will use lose, you may face criminal penalties for perjury.
10. Don’t engage the children in the divorce.
Your children are not parties to the divorce; keep them out of it. Children should not be brought into the discussions about the divorce and should never be allowed to read any of the papers filed in court. Your children are not divorcing your spouse- you are. They should be encouraged to love both of their parents.
In short, if you are in doubt about doing something, you probably should not do it, at least, until you speak with your attorney.