08/20/2013 11:57 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2013

7 Tips to Avoiding a Disastrous Divorce

Litigants, fueled by emotions, jealously or bad advice, can easily snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by making poor decisions during their divorces. All your planning, strategizing and preparation will be for naught if you make one of these predictable, but easily avoidable mistakes.

Since a litigated divorce is mentally overwhelming, you could unwittingly fall victim to these behaviors, which would ensure that you would only view your divorce with regrets. By simply being aware of what not to do, you can steer clear of these mistakes.

1. Hiring the wrong attorney.
Not every divorce and every issue within the divorce need be fully litigated. To the contrary, most cases are settled. Even in those cases that cannot be settled, it is rare that every issue has to be litigated.

Hiring the bullldog attorney -- the super aggressive lawyer who promises to leave no stone unturned so that you will "win" the case and punish your spouse -- is a recipe for disaster. The bulldog attorney will needlessly litigate everything.

The only person who will definitely benefit from this hire is the attorney. He will bill you aggressively and end up with the lion's share of the marital assets.

On the other hand, you do not want to retain the overly conciliatory attorney either. The right attorney is pragmatic -- flexible enough to make a deal, but firm enough to protect your interests.

2. Failing to understand the ramifications of your decisions.
You have retained counsel and perhaps a financial advisor or planner. Ask them questions. Explore options and alternative resolutions. Consider "what if" scenarios; if one aspect of a settlement is contingent on some other event, understand what happens if the contingent event does not occur.

If you do not fully understand every decision in your divorce, you will have to live with the consequences.

3. Settling for more than you can pay or less than you need.
Understand your actual income, expenses and your budget. You have to know if a settlement will afford you the ability to support yourself and your family when the divorce is over. You should not settle a case on unrealized or hopeful expectations.

If you are the paying spouse, you do not want to commit to pay more than you can afford. On the other hand, if you are the recipient spouse, realize if your demand your ex to make payments that are not affordable, it is more likely there will be a default in payments and then all you will get is more litigation.

4. Taking legal advice from your hair stylist.
Everyone, your friends, your family and even your hair stylist, has an opinion about your divorce. They all have an opinion about what you need, what you should ask for and what you should do to get it. They also may tell you what you are doing wrong and why their friends got more.

Don't listen to them. They will only make you doubt yourself.

Ask them where they went to law school and how long they have practiced family law. The ensuing silence will tell you the value of their advice. Put differently, your divorce attorney does not cut your hair; your hair stylist should not practice law.

5. Making decisions based on anger and spite.
Avoid making knee-jerk emotional decisions. The decisions you make will impact you and your family's economic future and welfare. Avoid making rash, irrational decisions. Take time and think your positions through after conferring with your attorney.

6. Fighting for your principles.
It really is great to be right. But being right costs money, particularly when you are fighting a divorce.

For most people, preserving assets and achieving a fair settlement is more important than being right. Pick your battles and only fight the ones that really make sense.

7. Insisting that the judge decide everything.
While you may need to vent your anger or your frustration to the judge in your case, you may not really want a trial. After trial, a judge will render judgment based only on the limited facts presented to him or her, and you will be bound by the judge's decision. You will have much more control over a negotiated settlement which can be nuanced to address some of your concerns. And, of course, the costs of a trial may be astronomical.

Guided by these simple principles, you can avoid becoming one of those terrible divorce stories.

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