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Top 10 Mistakes in Divorce & Custody Cases

Rich Harris

After having had the privilege to practice Colorado family law for more than a quarter century, I have worked countless folks in divorce and custody cases. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to represent women, men, individuals of all ages and those who come from every kind of background. But no matter the case or the client, I have found that far too many people fall into the same missteps over and over again. Therefore, I humbly offer the below is a list of some of the ones I have seen again and again over the years in the hopes that you might avoid them in your case.

Hiding or Failing to Disclose Assets or Income

This is almost always a mistake. In every family law proceeding in Colorado, you are required to provide documentation of your assets, income, and debts. Your “mandatory disclosures’ typically include everything covering a lengthy (3-year) period. If you do not do so voluntarily, it is my experience that your choice to hide will be discovered. And, when it is, the damage to your credibility, and possibly even your financial outcome, will often far exceed what you might have gained had you succeeded in the deception.

Allowing Short-Term Emotions to Control

Try to stay focused on the big picture. Going through a Colorado divorce or custody battle can be scary, confusing, or worse. You may have even justifiable anger about the circumstances that led up to it. But remember, the decisions you make in the weeks and months ahead in this one court case (which will, by the way, come to an end, for sure!) can impact your financial and parenting rights for years, or even decades, to come. Surround yourself with experienced, unbiased professionals (more on that below), and listen to their advice on what to focus on versus what to put aside and let go.

Not Having Proper Advice – Legal, Financial, Mental Health

There is no question that it can be costly to hire qualified professionals. It may even be beyond many folks’ means. But, if you can, you will almost always save more money and time and problems down the road if you have honest, competent, and ethical advisors to guide you in your family law case. In my practice, I have seen so many situations where my clients have tried to fix things that were done poorly the first time around. In far too many of these cases, the legal fix ends up costing far more than hiring good professionals at the front end would have been.

Relying on False Information

I can tell you, without any hesitation, that the “word on the street” about what Colorado family law judges might do is all over the map – often exaggerated or taken out of concept or, in many cases – flat out wrong. Your uncle, dry cleaner, hairdresser, etc., may be the nicest, most well-intentioned person on the planet, but you should always double check with a qualified professional anything you are told by a non-lawyer about Colorado family law. Far too many people fail to heed this advice, and they end up wasting a ton of money and time trying to pursue untenable goals in their Colorado divorce or child custody case.

Making Big Financial Moves before the Divorce

You should assume that anything you do in the 6 months or so leading up to your court filing will be scrutinized and second-guessed. Please do not fall into the trap of thinking that you can improve your legal standing by changing your situation before you file. Do not suddenly reduce your income, or take a demotion in your position, or sell off assets on the eve of divorce. Most of the time, this will hurt you. Under Colorado family law, the judge can “impute” or assume, certain facts to still be in existence if s/he believes you made the change in bad faith.

Involving your Kids in the Custody Fight

You should never put your kids in the middle of position of your divorce. Remind them early and often that it is not their fault. Stress to them that the adults will do what they can to make decisions to protect and serve their long-term interests. They have neither the burden nor the right to be involved in where they live, who pays what, or anything else in the divorce. Try to shield them from the details. Do not fall prey to disparaging the other parent or spouse. Rise above, and you will both help them move through in a healthier manner and, more likely than not, improve your own standing in the eyes of your Colorado family law judge.

Sharing Too Much on Social Media

At the risk of sounding preachy, which is not my intent, I would strongly recommend that anyone going thru a Colorado divorce or custody case adhere to the same kinds of lessons we all try to teach our kids. Never, ever, ever (is that one too many “ever” ‘s 😊) assume that anything you post online is private or confidential. Never say bad things about your ex, their new girl/boyfriend, the judge, etc. We have all heard the horror stories. At our firm, we tell our folks to not type anything in any forum, period, that you would not be comfortable being published on the front page of The New York Times. This may be an exaggeration, but only slightly so. What family law litigants say on social media becomes fodder for courtroom exhibits every single day in the Colorado courts. Like our mothers taught us, if you cannot say something nice, keep it to yourself! 😊

Focusing on Punishment/Vindication as Your Goal

The Colorado family court system is a terrible place to achieve vindication or emotional satisfaction. Our system is simply not set up that way. If you go into your Colorado family law case thinking that the judge is going to agree that your ex is a monster – even if s/he really is – you are going to be sorely disappointed. Our family law system is not intended to right wrongs, or to punish those at fault. In fact, there is a reason why, in Colorado, the system is called “No Fault Divorce”. Judges are required to divide up assets and debts fairly, and to put into place basic arrangements to protect kids’ best interests. Period.

Failing to Save Money in Advance for Professionals

Sadly, having good lawyers and other professionals in your corner, especially if your spouse is up for a fight, is incredibly important. Legal fees – at least for ethical and experienced and talented lawyers – are not cheap. Plan to have money set aside for a retainer. Plan for additional financial resources down the road if you need it. If possible, reach out in advance to those who might be willing to lend you money. Hopefully, you will never need it. But the worst thing you want to do is be vulnerable to a vengeful ex and his or her lawyer who is trying to outspend you until you can get in front of a family law judge.

Not Protecting Your Health

This final bit of advice is something that is coming clearer and clearer to me in recent years. It may be a cliché, but it is undoubtedly true that you cannot protect anyone or anything else – like your kids and your money – if you do not protect yourself. Good professional advice and financial resources are important. But, your own personal health, physically, mentally, and emotionally, are even more important. Take care of yourself. Get therapy to manage your stress. Eat and rest. Practice meditation or yoga or boxing or hiking or whatever else gives you perspective, peace, and joy. You are going to need it for what could be an incredibly difficult family law case in Colorado. If you are stronger and healthier, you will almost definitely do better. Your kids (and maybe your heirs) will thank you for it!

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