Divorce is hard enough without having to deal with an ex who tries to complicate and delay the process.
If your ex is using dirty divorce tricks, be hyper aware of everything — your money, your belongings, even your friends and family.
“If you’re aware, it’s harder to be taken advantage of,” says attorney Steven Ricklin of Ricklin & Associates in Westlake Village, Calif.
Keep your eyes open for these common sneaky divorce tactics
We consulted divorce attorneys and sought advice from real divorcees to learn some of the most common sneaky divorce tactics and how to avoid them:
1. Hiding and restricting access to money
Partners may try to hide money or restrict access to shared finances before or during the divorce process.
Sandra M. Radna, a New York based divorce and family law attorney, says you should meet with an accountant, financial advisor, and trusts and estates attorney as soon as you suspect something is going on.
2. Going further into debt
Sometimes, a person will try to accumulate debt and then quickly divorce their partner to leave them with the payments. However, people don’t always get away with it.
Depending on the state you live in, Radna says marital debt (debt accumulated during the marriage) is often shared equally just like marital assets.
If you live in a community property state, any assets and debt acquired by either spouse during the marriage are supposed to be divided equally between both spouses.
These states are:
- New Mexico
This doesn’t necessarily mean every asset and debt will be split 50/50, but rather that the sum of your assets and debts should be divided equally. For instance, if you live in a community property state and your spouse has a lot of debt and you don’t, they may be entitled to a larger share of your shared assets to make up for it.
If you live in an equitable distribution state, a judge will determine how to divide assets and debt, unless you come to an agreement with your spouse ahead of time or work with a mediator to determine how to fairly divide them.
“He paid his student loans during marriage but wouldn’t let me pay mine, so I still have that debt.” – single mom on Facebook
3. Canceling your credit cards
If you are an authorized user on one of your spouse’s credit cards, your spouse can cancel that card without your consent or remove you as an authorized user.
However, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in most cases, you can’t be removed from a joint credit card or bank account without consent.
One woman turned to Reddit for advice after her husband said he removed her from their joint checking account, though it’s unclear whether he would actually be able to do that or simply changed their account login/froze access to her debit card:
4. Refusing to cooperate
Refusing to cooperate during the divorce process is not only extremely frustrating but can delay your divorce completion, prevent you from moving forward, and cost you a lot of money.
While it is possible to settle the terms of a divorce amicably and without court intervention, sometimes filing a court action is best in a contentious situation, says Penelope Hefner, family and law attorney at Sodoma Law in Charlotte, N.C.
“Filing an action does not mean you can’t or won’t settle,” Hefner says. “But if one partner is refusing to cooperate, the court process will provide a timeline and requirements that will push a case forward.”
She says that those court-imposed consequences may convince the partner to have a change of heart. If not, mediation may be required.
“[My ex] refused to cooperate and provide any documentation,” one single mom on Facebook said. Her ex also refused to buy out their house and give her access to her inheritance.
Watch out for these brutal divorce tactics
Sometimes divorcing spouses take extreme measures to sway divorce proceedings and make their ex partner suffer:
5. Withdrawing all the money from bank accounts
Some spouses drain or secretly siphon money from shared bank accounts before or after filing for divorce. That’s why it's a good idea to keep your own money in a separate account.
Radna says if your spouse starts dissipating marital assets, you should get an attorney as soon as possible to stop them with a court order. She says the judge can force your spouse to return your share of the money.
6. False accusations of child abuse
A truly vindictive ex might try to use your children to sway divorce proceedings, positioning you as a neglectful or even abusive parent.
Radna’s best advice is to document everything.
One single mom said about her ex, “[He] called the police and said I was abusing our 2-year-old child when she was crying for more screen time.”
Another shared a similar experience: “My ex made false accusations to take my kids from me.”
7. Taking the kids and moving away
In some cases, one partner might actually take the children and move away, which is considered kidnapping in some states.
The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) has been accepted by 49 states (all but Massachusetts) and includes parameters about which state decides jurisdiction in child custody cases.
“This means that should a parent take the kids and flee the state, there are national laws in place to address that,” Radna says.
The UCCJEA does not decide where the child has to live but rather which state’s court will determine custody parameters.
Radna says if a parent moves the children outside of what was determined in a court order, that may be grounds for a court to modify custody. Increasingly, judges are not tolerant of parents moving the children away from another parent.
Start the divorce process now, affordably. Read reviews of the best online divorce services.
8. Attempting to get you fired
Some people try to sabotage their ex’s job. They might do this by providing inaccurate, negative information about you to your boss or coworkers.
If you’re experiencing a high-conflict divorce, Radna suggests making your employer aware in case your spouse contacts the office.
“It’s much easier to explain and defuse if your employer was given the heads-up,” Radna says.
9. Removing things from the house
If your partner removes shared possessions from your home — like electronics, jewelry, antique or expensive furniture, or important family heirlooms — this could have legal consequences, depending on which state you live in.
“During the divorce, make sure that you have proof of the value of all assets, including digital assets, before you finalize the divorce agreement,” Radna says.
If you’re looking to get your possessions back, Hefner says the best protection is to document all items as soon as you know that separation is a possibility. To document everything, take photos and create an inventory that includes details like date of purchase and purchase price for each item.
This woman on Reddit says her ex husband began selling some of their shared property — including her $4,000 diamond ring — after she served him with divorce papers:
10. Disconnect utilities
Your cable, electricity, or telephone might be cut off by your spouse without any warning, leaving you in the dark.
Hefner says most courts frown upon spiteful behavior like this.
“That type of behavior can result in an award of attorney’s fees for the injured party,” she says.
It can also be used against the offending party if children are involved and custody is in question.
One Reddit user asked for advice on how to handle this situation:
Commenters told the original poster to get a lawyer and get herself and her children out of the abusive situation.
Divorce tricks men and women might try
Both men and women can be guilty of sneaky divorce tactics. These are some tricks your husband or wife might try to pull off:
11. Trying to delay the divorce
Dragging out a divorce longer than necessary is a sneaky, annoying way to make the whole process more painful — and more expensive.
One single mom on Facebook said that her ex “took five years to get divorced out of retaliation.”
The best way to avoid dragging out the divorce process is to follow court-imposed requirements and deadlines, she says.
“You don’t want to accuse the other side of not following the rules if you haven’t followed them yourself,” Hefner says.
She suggests holding the other person accountable by notifying the court if a deadline passes.
“Don’t condone bad behavior,” Hefner says.
12. Pressuring you to settle before you are ready
If your spouse is trying to rush you through the divorce process, beware. This might mean they’re hiding assets, or that they plan to stick you with a settlement that’s less than you should receive.
If you know your partner is thinking about divorce, Hefner says you should start learning everything about the process that you can.
She suggests reading books, meeting with a divorce lawyer, scheduling ongoing sessions with a therapist, and meeting with financial professionals. Connect with a certified mental health professional through BetterHelp.com. Read our review.
“Being prepared means you will be ready to make big decisions when the time comes,” Hefner says.
13. Avoiding paying support/hiding income
Some ex-husbands and ex-wives might conceal a source of income or try to get out of paying spousal or child support. Hiding assets or failing to pay support is illegal.
Hefner said that if you believe the other party is hiding income or assets, it may be worth it to hire a forensic CPA.
“That work will not come cheap, but it can mean the difference of thousands of dollars depending on what they are able to find and trace,” she says.
In this Reddit thread, one user shared how her sister’s ex-husband paid as little as possible:
Another asks if he’s in the wrong for helping his friend hide money before his divorce:
Whether they do it intentionally or unintentionally, some mothers and fathers say bad things about their ex that cause the children to turn against the other parent.
However, studies have shown that children benefit when both parents are an active, involved part of their lives.
This happened to one Reddit user, who shared his sadness about how his ex-wife weaponized their kids.
15. Create drama
Women and men may create unnecessary drama in a divorce. This might include starting rumors about an ex, escalating situations with police involvement (unnecessarily), and seeking restraining orders.
Make sure you avoid dirty divorce tricks
Even if you hate or resent your soon-to-be ex spouse, it’s best for everyone involved — especially if you have children — to play nice. Avoid the temptation to employ these divorce tricks:
16. Don’t serve papers to embarrass them
Some people may choose to serve divorce papers in front of others — at their workplace, or at a family gathering — but this creates unnecessary drama. Plus, your partner might retaliate to humiliate you in turn.
Hefner says most states allow parties to voluntarily accept service rather than being sent the documents by certified mail, by law enforcement, or by a private process server.
“The worst thing you can do is serve someone at work (likely an embarrassing situation for all involved) or in front of your kids (this can be traumatic and confusing for them),” Hefner says.
17. If there was an affair, stay out of it
It might seem tempting to sabotage your partner’s new relationship or start a relationship of your own just to make your ex jealous. However, you should resist the urge to cause drama for your ex and their new partner.
18. Don’t do any of the above sneaky divorce tricks
The divorce tactics listed here are brutal. If you’re going through a divorce, choose to be the bigger person by staying out of the drama. Don’t play any of these tricks on your partner or your ex.
“Be aware that everything you text or say can be used as evidence in your divorce,” Radna advised. “Don’t say things out of anger that you will later regret. Keep your emotions out of it — just communicate what you must about the children or finances, nothing more.”
Bottom line: Know these sneaky divorce tactics so you can overcome them
Divorce can be brutal, especially if your ex insists on playing dirty. Trying to settle a divorce amicably and without court involvement is the best way to avoid these situations, like through the use of an online divorce service.