Curtis Harrison is a Plano-based attorney with the law firm of Albin | Harrison | Roach. He is board certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Family Law and is a member of the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas and the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.
After sixteen years of practicing family law in and out of the courtroom I like to think I’ve seen or heard just about everything. Of course, that’s hyperbole, but the truth is that clients have a hard time surprising me anymore. And I have noticed over the years that even the most gentle and considerate of people fall prey to the universal human instinct for survival when faced with a divorce. This instinct can temporarily override common decency, parental wisdom, and even rationality.
Why is this? Almost without exception, folks facing the prospect of a separation or divorce feel extraordinary pressures. Those pressures are usually rooted in fear: fear the unknown; fear of the perceived lack of control over the future; and fear of how decisions others make during the divorce will affect them. These fears drive many divorcing couples to make terrible mistakes that will haunt them and their children for years to come. Some of the mistakes are made long before either spouse consults with a divorce attorney.
While the list of “do’s and don’ts” is long and detailed, here are three fundamental things you should not do in a divorce:
- Don’t involve the kids
- Don’t make unilateral decisions
- Don’t “over-lawyer”
Don’t Involve the Kids
Although this should be obvious, it is one of the most of the common – and by far the most tragic – mistake that I see couples make. Examples abound:
- Mom and Dad cannot or will not contain their so-called “adult conversations” (arguing) in the presence of the children.
- Dad picks up the kids to take them for the weekend and Mom tells the children she will miss them terribly instead of encouraging them to have a great time.
- Mom is forced to tighten the budget at home out of necessity while Dad, who has recently moved into a bachelor-pad apartment, starts lavishing the children with Wii’s, off-road bicycles, and trips to Disney.
All of these examples, and countless others, place the children squarely on the chessboard of the divorce. The parents — whether they realize it or not — have made their own children the pawns in the chess match. And we all know what happens to the pawns in chess.
Don’t do it.
Don’t Make Unilateral Decisions
Cleaning out bank accounts, buying a new car, and leaving town with the kids are all examples of decisions most people would never consider making without discussing with their spouse. Yet, faced with divorce, that little voice in our head we call common sense seems to take a vacation. Making important decisions that affect others without discussing it with them virtually guarantees you a quick trip to the courthouse for a contested hearing.
Don’t do it.
You can tell a lot from a name.
I frequently meet with potential clients who have already been served with a divorce suit and I have learned that you can discern a great deal about how ugly and expensive a divorce is going to be simply by looking to see who the other lawyer is. Individual lawyers have individualized reputations, and if a spouse wants to hire a Rambo-style litigator it is not difficult to find one.
Why do people in this day still seek out that kind of lawyers? Fear, grief, and anger are powerful emotions. Those emotions often drive otherwise rational people to make decisions that are not in their own best interests, much less in the best interest of their family. Ironically, folks who seek out the Rambos typically do so either to (i) get their “fair share”; or to (ii) get their pound of flesh. There really aren’t any other reasons.
The irony is that they will pay a $25,000 initial retainer to Rambo to fight for a larger piece of what is left over after he has picked over the carcass of your estate instead of seeking out an attorney with a reputation for problem solving that charges significantly less. As for getting the pound of flesh, nothing is free: Every pound of flesh you “acquire” will cost you something. That something could be the nest egg, the children’s emotional well-being, or bitterness in the person’s heart that reduces his or her quality of life for years to come.
Don’t do it.
Fortunately, there are qualified professionals in the industry who are trained to help couples end their marriage without scorching each other, the children, or the estate. If you would like more information about available options when it comes to divorce, including the Collaborative Law option, please feel free to visit our website, or contact me by email.