You’ve heard the
divorce horror stories. You’ve heard about the wife who drained the bank
accounts and charged up all the credit cards. You’ve heard about
the mess of a divorce that drove the divorcing spouses to bankruptcy.
You’ve heard about the husband who blew the couple’s life
savings on gambling, and his subsequent divorce. You’ve heard about
the wealthy husband who cut his wife off and threw her out – you’ve
probably heard it all.
While many of these stories are based on fact, yours doesn’t have
to have an unhappy ending, not if you play your cards right. It’s
true, for most people divorce is very difficult emotionally, but it doesn’t
have to be financially. A lot of spouses can overcome the emotional aspect
as well when they handle their divorce is a mature and respectful manner
– when they treat divorce like a
Just think, if you were to buy a business, you would do all of your research
and you’d be very intelligent during negotiations. Divorce should
be handled the same way. What if you were in arbitration about a business
dispute? You wouldn’t enter a conference room and start yelling
at your opponent. You wouldn’t have a tantrum, walk out in the middle
of the meeting and slam the door. That would be counterproductive. Why
should you treat your divorce negotiations any differently than arbitration
or mediation in a business matter?
Here are 9 tips for negotiating your divorce settlement:
1. Understand your finances before you start negotiating.
If you’re in the dark about your finances, if you’re the “out
spouse,” it’s critical that you become up close and personal
with your financial situation before you even think about negotiating.
If you are one of those people who hate dealing with numbers and you don’t
understand your finances, get help BEFORE you start negotiating. You do
not want to start negotiating until after you have a firm grasp of your
whole financial picture.
If you need a professional to help you, talk to a financial advisor. After
he or she fully explains your finances to you and you understand the situation,
have a divorce attorney explain your rights and responsibilities under
community property laws. You don’t want to enter negotiations without fully understanding
what’s being negotiated.
2. Learn about your rights and responsibilities toward your children.
Family court judges care a lot about children and what’s in their
best interests. Before you develop a Parenting Plan with your spouse,
familiarize yourself with California’s
child custody and
child support laws.
A lot of fathers don’t realize that they have the
same rights as mothers in child custody cases, so they’ll voluntarily accept the raw end
of the deal and have to go back to court later when they realize they
can ask for more time with their children. Also, keep in mind that today’s
court system encourages custody arrangements where the children spend
a lot of time with both parents. So, as long as you’re both loving
parents, this is an arrangement that may benefit your family the most.
3. Know your needs and wants.
As you enter divorce negotiations, it’s important that you have
a clear picture of what you need and want. To really know what your needs
and wants are, put thought into a post-divorce budget. What is it going
to cost to support yourself and your family on one income? Do you need
a home for your children?
Do you need enough money to pay an auto loan and health insurance? Do you
need your spouse’s help taking the children to after-school activities?
Do you need to pay for childcare so you can work, and can your spouse
help you with that? If you need full-time daycare so you can work, paying
for childcare will be at the top of your list of priorities. You may not
be able to get everything you want, but the goal is to negotiate so you
can get what you really need.
4. Know what your spouse needs and wants.
Your spouse is going to have basic needs and wants too, and since you
know him or her better than anyone else, you should have a good idea as
to what these are. For example, maybe a husband wants the boat, while
his wife would prefer to take all the furniture.
Think about what your spouse will likely need and want and be aware of
these things before you sit down at the negotiating table. When you know
what your spouse needs and wants ahead of time, the better position you’re
in to negotiate a win-win settlement. The more likely you are to reach
an amicable arrangement, one you feel good about.
5. Know the best and worst case scenario.
Ask your attorney, “What’s the best-case scenario if we negotiate
a settlement and what’s the worst-case scenario if we can’t
agree and we end up in court?” The more insight you have, the more
proactive you can be. And from the start, strive for an amicable divorce
where both of you walk away feeling satisfied.
6. Know when to walk away.
You do not have to give in to something that you have strong objections
about. For example, if your spouse is trying to get sole physical custody
and you want joint custody, you should not let yourself be bullied into
it. Or, suppose you’re entitled to 50% of your spouse’s 401(k),
but he or she is saying that you can’t touch it. You do not have
to give in just because your spouse is being unfair.
Sometimes in a divorce, you have to know when to walk away. Before negotiating,
know what you can’t live without. And, have the courage to reject
a proposal when it falls seriously short.
7. Be flexible.
It can’t be your way or the highway during the entire negotiations,
it doesn’t work that way in a divorce! The more willing you are
to be flexible and have an open mind, and the more willing you are to
brainstorm with your spouse for solutions, the greater the chances of
you having an amicable divorce. If there starts to be a lot of heat in
the room, take a break and resume negotiations after both of you have
had the opportunity to cool down.
If you don’t understand your alternatives, ask your lawyer. He or
she will be able to discuss various options that meet your needs, your
spouse’s needs, and your children’s needs. It may be hard,
but it’s important to listen to your spouse’s ideas as well.
Remember, the more options that are on the table, the more likely you
are to come to a practical settlement that makes everyone happy.