The first thing to do is recognize a scheme and power play when you see it. The second thing is to not lose your cool and try to fight fire with fire. It will only cause things to escalate and your entire family will suffer. The final step is to think ahead and plan positive steps to counter your spouse’s power game. Get outside help if necessary.
The following list has descriptions and examples of some of those nasty tricks lawyers and their clients will sometimes pull. If your lawyer recommends that you do this, he or she is setting you up to take unfair advantage of your soon-to-be ex-spouse. If you do these things, don’t be surprised if your actions come back to haunt you after the divorce!
1. Take the money out of jointly held bank accounts, put it all into an account in your name alone and don’t tell your spouse about it beforehand. Then let your spouse handle the problems associated with covering the bounced checks. This causes the most confusion and distress if your spouse usually writes the checks to pay the household bills.
2. Use credit cards to purchase and stock up on personal items or make large purchases. Make sure to use the cards for which your spouse is the primary cardholder. This is especially effective at the beginning or near the end of a divorce. One lawyer actually told her client to go out the day before the settlement hearing and use her husband’s credit cards to purchase all the items she needed to set up her new household. Her husband would then be stuck with the bills because he had agreed to be responsible for the debt on his credit card as of the day of the divorce, which he didn’t know contained the charges made by his wife.
3. If you have moved out of the family home and are the primary source of income for the family, refuse to pay any household bills or send any support until you are forced to do it by the court. This is one of the steps in a routine called “Starve Out The Other Spouse”. The goal is to get the other spouse in a financial position where he or she, out of desperation, will accept an unfair settlement.
4. If your spouse doesn’t have an income withholding order, wait until the latest possible day to pay support money, even if you’ve got the money to send. In some states support doesn’t become delinquent until it’s 30 days past due and your spouse can’t do anything to you until the 31st day. Never mind that your spouse just might need the money to pay bills or buy things for the children.
5. Petition the court for primary custody of your children when you will actually agree to a joint custody or visitation arrangement. The real purpose for the request is to strike fear into the heart of your spouse and use it as a club to get your spouse to give up on something else, usually a financial issue.
6. Refuse to speak with your spouse about anything, including arrangements for him or her to have parenting time with your children. This falls into the category of a tactic used by some lawyers to create conflict, create issues that don’t need to exist, increase legal fees and wear the other side down. It can also cause a serious break in parent-child ties if the non-custodial parent doesn’t get to see the children because he or she can’t set up any parenting time.
7. File a bogus petition to have your spouse excluded from the family home under your state’s protection from abuse laws.
8. These are just a few of the sneaky things that can and have happened in divorces. They are sometimes successful, but are very destructive to any meaningful and fair settlement negotiations. In addition, the residual hard-feelings and bitterness they can leave after the divorce could hamper you and your ex-spouse’s ability to effectively co-parent your children. What’s more, they often lead to post-divorce legal proceedings costing additional and unnecessary legal fees which most recently divorced people can ill afford.