Almost as soon as you and your spouse decide to separate, you will be dealing with a roller coaster of emotions and making a raft of crucial decisions that have long-term implications for you, your children, your practice and your long-term financial health.
You may not be in the best frame of mind to be making wise choices yet make them you must. Here are seven things we’ve found physicians do to hurt themselves and their medical practice in a divorce as they’re making decisions – sometimes under pressure.
1 – Having unrealistic expectations
It seems that more than with clients in other high level occupations, doctors often start out with unrealistic expectations about the outcome of their divorce, how long it will take and what it might cost.
Frequently, physicians base this on the experience of friends and colleagues, or something they read on the internet. Each divorce is unique and it is difficult to generalize because no two divorces are identical. But at our initial meeting, we will discuss the range of possible outcomes, how long things may take, and what your cost may be.
2 – Not fully disclosing all relevant information
As your attorneys, we need to know everything about you at the outset, including any bad or irresponsible behavior that may have contributed to the marriage’s failure. You may be embarrassed by it but not telling us can have major negative consequences as the process unfolds.
We can plan how to deal with your one night stand or long-term affair, financial problems in the practice, alcohol or substance abuse issues, and other damaging information that you may have not told your spouse. We’re on your side so inform us at the outset of all potentially damaging information in your personal or professional life that your spouse may raise as issues.
3 – Assuming marital property always gets divided equally
Physicians often assume that their spouse is only entitled to half of the marital assets. While this is the goal of a property settlement, a court will look at factors such as the length of the marriage, whether one spouse stopped working outside the home to take care of the couple’s children, the rights of the children themselves, and similar issues.
Also, consideration is given to things such as the future earning power and opportunities of each spouse, any expected inheritances and so on. We will help you create a reasonable strategy for dealing with all of these factors.
4 – Distorting the value of your practice
Usually, this is the result of miscalculating “commercial” and “personal” good will.
Personal goodwill – why patients keep coming to you when they’re sick – is an asset that is separate from your ability to practice medicine. So it isn’t divided between spouses. On the other hand, commercial goodwill is the ability of your practice as a business to attract and retain patients, even if a physician leaves.
Commercial goodwill often can be divided in a property settlement. Personal goodwill is most important if you practice alone, and loses significance in a partnership or professional association. A qualified business evaluator will be able to calculate the worth of each.
5 – Ignoring deadlines and information requests
We understand that your patients’ health and well-being is your top priority; this dedication is likely why you became a doctor in the first place.
But disregarding deadlines and requests for information, and not making time to be involved in your divorce, prolongs the process, increases the cost, and could result in a court fining you for not providing information requested by your spouse’s attorney in a timely manner.
Avoid the temptation to delegate the task to your office manager; it’s your responsibility alone.
6 – Not being actively involved in your children’s life
During your marriage, you may not have played a major care-giving role for your kids. Now, the children will be spending nights and weekends with you.
Now, you’ll have to make arrangements for after school and day care, taking them on outings, helping with homework and other tasks your spouse may have had full responsibility for doing. Consider hiring a part-time nanny, and be sure to plan for someone to look after the kids if you are called away during the night.
7 – Displaying inappropriate or inflammatory behavior
Doing some things will definitely complicate your divorce if you engage in them. Such as? Posting derogatory comments about your spouse on Facebook or Twitter. Buying expensive gifts for a lover, or having them move in with you. Taking a lavish vacation with your new love interest or buying them expensive gifts before the divorce is final.
Finally, when speaking with your spouse on the phone or sending text messages, don’t say or write anything that you don’t want repeated in court.
Physicians who avoid doing these surefire ways to harm themselves and their practice are going to be in a much better position to cope with the divorce. And cope in a way that has a minimal negative effect on themselves and their practice.
Kathy Newman has more than 35 years of experience in high-asset divorce and family law issues faced by physicians throughout the Twin Cities area. Kathy and her team understand the applicable laws and legal nuances involved, and welcome the opportunity to support you through the process. Read more from our Divorce blog for physicians.