Simply hear the word “divorce” and chances are you feel a wave of emotion. Even the most amicably, equitably handled dissolutions are imbued with sadness, disappointment, and loss. But there are divorce mistakes women make that can lead to greater loss than marriage alone.
Divorce has a lot of parallels to the death of a loved one.
It marks a permanent end to an important relationship. It drags the predictable stages of grief in its wake.
And, as if adding insult to injury, it demands a resolute pragmatism against a backdrop of painful emotions.
Decisions have to be made—immediate, short-term, and far-reaching decisions. And many of those decisions will be complicated and will tempt your emotional resolve.
Most of the divorce mistakes women make are born out of this conflict. And they can be costly and regretful after there is clarity and it’s too late to make changes.
Here are the 9 biggest divorce mistakes women make. While you’re trying to figure out what to do, take time to also learn what not to do.
1.) Leading with your emotions.
Perhaps you and your soon-to-be-ex donned traditional stereotypes when it came to “emotional stuff.” You shed the tears and led with your heart; he was all business and quick to “fix.”
Perhaps there were incendiary topics that consistently led to heated conflicts and one person giving in to avoid more hurt.
Perhaps there are areas that always go for the jugular and cause you to react before thinking.
But now isn’t the time to let your emotions cloud your thinking. It’s not the time to cave in order to avoid conflict.
And it’s also not the time to drag things out to inflict punitive damage.
It’s time to be a wise, informed, level-headed advocate for your (and your children’s) future.
2.) Thinking there is an “ideal” time to divorce.
One of the biggest divorce mistakes women make is convincing themselves there will be an ideal or “better” time to divorce.
At any point in time, there are going to be challenges that make you question your timing.
You may not know how to file for divorce during uncertainty, as with the COVID-19 pandemic.
You may suddenly have a medical emergency with a family member.
If you have children in high school, perhaps you think it’s better to wait until they graduate.
The point is, there is never going to be a perfect, pragmatic time to divorce once you have made the decision that that’s your destiny.
3.) Not understanding the family finances.
This mistake can be the most costly to a woman. And it is only made worse by letting fear and/or emotional fatigue take the reins.
If you have deferred control of the family finances to your husband, it’s imperative that you get informed now.
Get copies of everything relating to your family finances—accounts, investments, debts.
And get a financial adviser to help you understand the picture that will ultimately determine your settlement.
For more steps to take if you are thinking about divorce or beginning the challenging process, read our “36 Things to Do If You are Thinking About Divorce.”
4.) Not understanding the future value and liability of the settlement.
Even if you have been involved in the finances, you probably don’t understand them with a future projection.
Different kinds of investments, for example, will have different tax liabilities. This area alone warrants having a financial advisor.
Just because something looks like “apples to apples” doesn’t mean it is.
5.) Settling too soon and for too little.
I get it. You’re tired and angry. You’re afraid. You just want to get it over with.
But settling too soon—and ultimately for too little—is one of the biggest divorce mistakes women make.
You may be overwhelmed by the realization that you have been completely in the dark about your finances.
It’s possible you feel guilt over your role in your marriage.
You may think a “decent sum” of money now will make walking away without a fight worthwhile.
But this is the time to suit up and show up for yourself and your future.
Put a little extra protein in your morning shake and get to work learning what you need to learn to advocate for yourself.
6.) Not using an attorney.
You and your ex-to-be may feel comfortable and amicable enough to work out most of the details of your divorce on your own.
No matter what you agree to, however, having your own attorney is just prudent. You need someone to cut through all that makes your divorce so “personal” and provide you with facts and figures.
Your divorce doesn’t have to be The War of the Roses in order for you to have what you’re entitled to.
But this isn’t the time to let your spouse be in charge of your future.
Hiring a good attorney, even if your divorce doesn’t go to trial, is your first step in building a circle of reliable support and resources. (Read more about questions to ask a divorce attorney.)
Your ex isn’t going to be directing your future after your divorce. Don’t give him that power now.
7.) Confusing justice with divorce law.
If you have been wronged in some way—infidelity, abandonment—this may be a tough pill to swallow. It’s only natural that you would want some kind of justice to make up for your suffering.
While no amount of money can make up for what you may have endured, a little legal justice would be gratifying.
Unfortunately, divorce law doesn’t work that way.
Part of your self-education should be learning the specifics of divorce law in your state. Some states are community property states. Some allow alimony and some don’t.
The point is, assuming there is no abuse or physical endangerment, divorce law isn’t punitive.
A good attorney will drive this point home so you can step outside your emotional thinking and into your pragmatic thinking.
8.) Keeping the family home.
It’s understandable that you would instinctively cling to the nest that you largely created on your own.
If you have children, you may not want them to be uprooted from their last vestige of familiarity. And “the house” may feel like your only anchor to not being demoted in your lifestyle.
But think about what it has taken to afford and maintain the house up to this point. Are you still paying a mortgage? What about property tax, utilities, and repairs?
Are you in a position to take on that responsibility by yourself?
While selling your house may seem like the final straw of loss, it can actually be a liberation. Starting over in your own place, downsized to what is essential and affordably comfortable, can reduce your burden going forward.
If you’re accustomed to a certain lifestyle, putting the brakes on spending money may feel unnatural and unfairly restrictive.
As you and your ex-to-be negotiate your settlement, non-essential spending will need to stop. Otherwise, you will be trying to pin a decision on a moving target.
Spending habits after your divorce will most likely also need modification.
Women usually come out of a divorce with less of a financial advantage. They struggle, in general, more than men post-divorce, living on restricted budgets and a lower income.
Of all the divorce mistakes women make, the most crippling and unnecessary is believing they have to go through a divorce alone.
Whether you’re contemplating or embarking on a divorce, there is plenty of support to help educate, guide, and encourage you.
One of the most empowering outcomes of going through a divorce is emerging with the realization that you can take care of yourself…
…because you already did.
SAS women are those amazing ladies you meet who are entirely committed to navigating divorce — on their own terms. If you are considering or dealing with divorce, you are invited to experience SAS for Women firsthand and schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation. Whether you work further with us or not, we’ll help you understand your next, black-and-white steps for walking into your brave unknown — with compassion and integrity.
*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”