“Smart, fair-minded, hard-working good men make all sorts of mistakes in divorce. Executives and professors and doctors make the same mistakes as plumbers and truck drivers,” according to Joseph Cordell in The 10 Stupidest Mistakes Men Make When Facing Divorce. The lawyer and his wife run a bustling St. Louis law practice specializing in men’s divorce. “You can’t make a mistake we haven’t seen,” he writes.
Among the biggest mistakes is moving out when your wife tells you to leave. Men go, thinking, “A little time apart might ease the tension.” Don’t do it, warns Cordell. Stay. Sleep on the couch if you care about custody. “If the father has moved out, he may be portrayed as the ‘absentee father’ or as having ‘moved on’ without his children,” he points out. That brings him to another top mistake: neglecting the kids. “We see it all the time. A couple splits up. They agree to share responsibilities for the kids.”
In the book, he gives an example: “Suppose the mom misses one of Junior’s baseball games. Well, people say, that’s understandable; after all, she’s a busy single mom. On the other hand, suppose the dad misses the next game. Well, people say, he’s a dad who doesn’t care very much about his kids. That is the level of unfairness and illogic we encounter all the time. Male clients have to face up to it.”
In court, Cordell warns his clients not to be ill-prepared. “A wife’s attorney has a surefire way of attacking a dad who claims to be more involved than he is.” Her lawyer simply asks questions about the kids: “What colour is Jill’s favourite sweater? What kind of breakfast cereal do they like?” Dads who are “working eight, nine, 10 hours a day aren’t going to know all that stuff,” he adds. Get familiar with the kids’ schedules, he tells men. “When are their music lessons and sports practices? When do they brush their teeth? What are their friends’ names?”
Blabbing to your wife is another mistake. “The most destructive conversations typically seem to happen late at night on Friday or Saturday, usually in the kitchen,” he writes. “Both husband and wife are tired, and maybe one or both has had a drink or two. She says, ‘I’m going to win.’ He says, ‘No, you’re not, because my lawyer is going to say that you took Valium and that you made a mistake on your financial forms. I’m going to get the kids and I’m going to have to pay you little or nothing.’
“What happens next is she tells her lawyer what she’s learned. Her lawyer fixes the mistakes on the financial forms and prepares to show that her doctor prescribed Valium because her husband was driving her crazy.”
Revealing too much information on the Internet is a big mistake, too, he writes. “Too many men decide they need to reinvent themselves as they emerge from a failed marriage, and they put forth their new image on Facebook or MySpace.” Bad idea. “You don’t want to appear in court representing yourself as quiet, churchgoing and sober, and then have opposing counsel present a MySpace page that shows you playing beer pong.”
If you’ve got a new girlfriend, take a close look at what she’s posting, too, Cordell tells clients. He gives the example of a husband who pleaded poverty during proceedings only to learn in court that his new girlfriend posted news of the expensive jewellery he’d given her.
When men ask his firm, “What can my girlfriend put up on Facebook about me and our relationship?” Cordell says their answer is: “Nothing. Not a word. Not a single photo. Nothing.” He goes further, telling men to buy a new computer at the first sign of marital discord. “The cost of a new computer is cheap compared with the cost of an incriminating browsing history.”
He also warns men to “tell your lawyer about all your Internet habits at the outset.” “We’ve been able to persuade judges that a mom can’t be doing the best job possible with her kids if she’s spending five or six hours a day glued to Facebook. She’s literally stealing time from the kids. If the same argument can be lodged against you, your lawyer needs to know.”