Don't we all like to think that if divorce was in our future, our uncoupling would be civilized, respectful and rational? For many divorcing spouses it can be that way, particularly where there are no children and minimal assets. However, all the best intentions for an amicable parting can quickly dissipate once spouses abandon the high-road for the ditch.
If you are involved in a so-called "amicable divorce," are there identifiable signs that signal your divorce may be meandering to the low-road? Of course, there are. Be aware of the following:
1. You Have a New Partner: Often amicable divorces remain that way until a husband begins a serious relationship with a new lady. One of the easiest ways to have your divorce come "off the rails" is to flaunt a new paramour before your wife is emotionally ready, which in some cases is never.
2. You Decide to Close the Credit Card Accounts: It is not uncommon for husbands to maintain the financial status quo until they realize their separated spouses' credit card spending is three times the pre-separation amount. Delicacy is required to rein in the spending, without ruining the convivial settlement discussions. A useful strategy is to terminate all major credit cards except one, which remains available to your spouse, albeit with a much lower credit facility. This can only be done with advance notice to your spouse.
3. You Take the Children on Vacation With Your New 'Friend': You have pleasant post-separation discussions and agree on summer vacation access with your kids, but fail to tell your wife you will be bringing along your 25-year-old significant other. Surprises are always dangerous. You are better off to advise your spouse in advance and find a compromise if she adamantly opposes the extra company. Perhaps the significant other only visits for a couple of nights or not at all?
4. Your Wife Finds Pre-Separation Jewellery Purchases She Knew Nothing About: The divorce process always involves the exchange of financial information, including credit card statements. If your wife finds purchases from Tiffany or Birk's, made before the separation and she is not the recipient, watch out. Still worse, are cancelled cheques on your joint account confirming you were paying your significant other's rent before you and your spouse separated.
5. You Were Sleeping With the Nanny in the Marital Bed: The marriage is now over but your wife learns from reliable sources that you were sleeping with the children's nanny during the marriage. This is a sure-fire way to generate anger and humiliation in your wife, something that usually gets in the way of future courteous communication.
6. The "Small" Mortgage on the Family Home Eats Up Half of the Home Equity: Your secret financial dealings during the marriage are now exposed and your wife is shocked to learn that what she thought was a $100,000 mortgage on the family residence is actually $250,000 as a result of undisclosed stock investments made with borrowed monies. It's even worse if the stock is now worth considerably less or nothing at all.
7. You Won't Give Up Custody of the Family Pet: You think everything is settled and leave the conversation about Muffy and Fido to the end, only to realize that neither of you will give up the family pet. Yes, judges now also decide who gets custody of the cat and dog, where the parties cannot agree. This issue can be a deal-breaker.
8. You Become an Absentee Parent: You tell your spouse you want to remain an active, involved parent, but your weekly visits are now monthly visits and you have failed to show up for some of your visits, leaving your children crying and your ex seething.
9. Your Spouse Makes it Difficult to See the Children: Parenting time starts off well but disintegrates when your spouse realizes her financial expectations are unrealistically inflated and she now needs leverage to obtain a better financial outcome. What better pawn than the children?
10. You Quit Your Job Before You Pay Spousal Support: You are usually a traditional husband who has no problem paying child support, but believes a 50-year-old wife who worked as a bank teller 20 years ago should immediately find full-time employment because the children are all in school. What else is she going to do all day?
Negotiating a reasonable divorce settlement can be a minefield if a spouse is not aware of the dangerous trigger points that invite hostility, embarrassment or distrust. A strategic family law lawyer is one who can assist you to manoeuvre the settlement terrain without stepping on a divorce landmine.