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The Cost of Being Difficult

This article was written by Hance Law Group associate attorney Beverly Via.

If I could give one piece of advice to someone getting a divorce, it would simply be, “Don’t be difficult.” That’s not to say that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself, or that you should cave in during negotiations. You definitely should understand your goals following a divorce, and you and your lawyer should work toward those goals in settlement negotiations and/or trial preparation. But you can do that without being unnecessarily difficult.

If there is no compelling reason to ask for sole custody and you make that request, your spouse will probably take that as an affront, and that will certainly sour any negotiations between you and your spouse going forward. Similarly, unreasonable financial requests can quickly shut down the conversation. I’ve seen couples even fight about the standard orders that dictate basic civil behavior during the divorce because one spouse wants to amend a standard, straightforward document with unnecessary and unrealistic requests.

One way that people are difficult in divorces is through unrealistic expectations during or following the divorce. And sometimes they do not intend to be difficult. Discuss your goals with your lawyer to make sure that you have realistic expectations and that you’re both operating with that understanding. If a lawyer is willing to entertain unrealistic expectations, he or she may be doing so under the guise of being a “pitbull” or “aggressive,” but might be more interested in racking up expensive litigation fees on your behalf than in actually fighting to achieve a good resolution for you. When deciding whether to hire a lawyer to take your case, I would recommend engaging in a discussion with the lawyer to help you determine what a realistic outcome is in your specific case and the most effective and efficient way to get that result.

Some people are so invested in getting a divorce that they might think of it as “expensive, but worth every penny.” But there’s no reason to make it more expensive than it needs to be. Family lawyers see that all the time, though: People getting divorced shoot themselves in the foot, and then get mad when they have to pay lawyers to patch things up. We understand that people getting divorced are not at their best, but we also know that when people are unnecessarily difficult in a divorce, they put themselves at risk for costlier proceedings and less acceptable results.

Another way people make things difficult for themselves is through their behavior. Operate with as much decorum as possible during the divorce, keeping in mind that you’re in the middle of legal proceedings impacting the rest of your life.

Any romantic relationships in which you are involved or want to pursue should be put on hold until the divorce is final. Of course, that may seem easier said than done—particularly given the emotions involved in a divorce. However, the presence of a significant other can cause talks to rapidly deteriorate as your spouse imagines you and your spouse’s children interacting with a new significant other, or learns about a romantic getaway that you enjoyed with someone else.

Making money decisions is also an area that can be fraught with emotion. If one spouse is the sole or the primary wage-earner for the family, he or she can revert to thinking “it’s my money,” even if the Texas Family Code reinforces that Texas is a community property state and that all community property will be divided and shared, spousal support may be awarded, and if a couple has children, that child support will be paid in pretty much every case. And on the other side, a spouse who has opted to stay at home in the family’s best interest and who has depended on a working spouse for income might understandably be very concerned about the future, but may not comprehend the lifestyle changes that typically come with a divorce.

How can you help to not make money any more of a sticking point than it already is? Upon the filing of the divorce, follow the standing order. Consult with your attorney before making any changes that affect your assets or debts. Don’t do anything that will appear suspicious with your money. Moving assets and closing accounts might be something you believe to be strategic and advantageous and may eventually need to be done, but if your spouse sees you make one move that doesn’t look above board (even if it is), that could send your case down the discovery path where all your finances are scrutinized. If you are not forthcoming and complete about assets and debts at the outset, it will prolong your case and will become very expensive.

As I tell some clients, I will work for you, but it’s your case. You will have homework to do, and you’ll need to be cooperative and forthcoming in order for me to do my best work. For the best results possible, heed the above advice and don’t make things more difficult for you by being difficult yourself. After all, divorce is hard enough as it is.