Tips for Negotiating a Divorce Settlement

If a couple wants to get a divorce and do so without having a judge intervene, they must agree to a divorce settlement. Ideally, the spouses will remain calm and collected and they’ll treat their divorce like a business transaction – and keep their emotions out of the equation – at least while they’re sitting at the negotiating table.

Whether someone is negotiating the purchase of a business, a home, a piece of real estate, an investment property, or if they’re negotiating over the assets and debts of a marriage, they take the same steps: 1) they must do their research, 2) they must become educated about the tax consequences, 3) they must determine their goals, and 4) they must come to a fair agreement. All negotiations share the same patterns and divorce is just like any other type of business transaction. Both parties should be satisfied.

If you are getting a divorce and you and your spouse have assets that are subject to division under California’s community property laws, then two factors will inevitably come into play: what type of settlement would be reasonably affordable and which settlement would be personally acceptable to you and your spouse. You see, if you cannot reach an agreement with your spouse, the only option is to have a family court judge step in and decide how to divide your marital assets and debts. This is a last resort and should be avoided if at all possible.

Divorce Negotiations 101

How will the negotiations process begin? It will all start with you and your personal divorce attorney. You and your lawyer would sit down, take a close look at all of your marital assets and debts, discuss your short and long-term goals, take into account your rights and responsibilities under California’s community property law, and thoughtfully put together the first draft of your marital settlement agreement. Once the first draft is complete, the next step will be to meet with your spouse and his or her attorney.

“The more insight you have into what your spouse wants and needs, the more you can negotiate in a manner that will satisfy both of you,” Karen Covy wrote in HuffPost. “You may think you don’t care about what your spouse wants or needs, but that kind of attitude is short-sighted. The more you can create a ‘win-win’ situation for both of you, the more likely you are to succeed in settling your case amicably,” said Covy.

Here are our tips for negotiating a divorce settlement:

  • Educate yourself on the applicable divorce laws as they pertain to child custody, child support, spousal support, asset and debt division. This way you understand your rights and responsibilities under the law.
  • Determine what’s important to you and what you want out of the divorce.
  • Be concrete in your ideas, but be flexible and listen to your attorney’s reason.
  • If you don’t understand your spouse’s objective, ask questions so you can understand where he or she is coming from.
  • Prepare to answer questions about your motivations.
  • If a problem needs to be resolved, be tough about finding a solution but be soft on the individuals involved.

Know the Facts & Develop Your Objectives

Spouses often know what they strongly desire out of the divorce; for example, sole custody of the kids, all of their retirement account, the marital residence, or even, “Nothing but the family dog,” but often, these wishes are impractical and unrealistic in light of the laws. In reality, divorcing spouses must find a way to compromise with their spouse until a mutually satisfactory settlement agreement is reached.

If you haven’t already met with a divorce lawyer, you need to meet with one, get educated on the law, and from there formulate your objectives in the divorce. You want to avoid assuming that you’ll obtain sole custody of the children, spousal support, or the lion’s share of the marital estate without discussing these issues with an attorney. All too often, people say and do things based on “false hopes” and they end up putting the “cart before the horse” as the old saying goes. It’s better to think practically, rather than having unrealistic ideas about your divorce settlement.

If you have decided to file for divorce but you haven’t done anything yet, our advice is to learn the law, determine exactly what your marital estate is worth, put a number on your debts, decide what you want, and what you want to accomplish by the time your divorce is finalized in court.

As you negotiate with your spouse, put yourself in his or her shoes and ask yourself, “What would I do if it were me?” You can even ask your spouse to perform the same exercise. What would your soon-to-be former spouse do if they were you? The sooner you both take this approach, the sooner you can arrive at a mutually-acceptable agreement.

How to Enter Negotiations

As you enter negotiations, keep the following in mind:

  • Be on time.
  • Dress nicely, but comfortably.
  • Obtain a written agenda from your attorney.
  • Bring a pen and notepad so you can take notes.
  • Be polite to all attendees.
  • Do not raise your voice or use derogatory language towards your spouse or their lawyer.
  • Avoid being defensive when explaining your ideas and be open to suggestions and advice.
  • Do not let your spouse bring up personal issues during the negotiations. If this happens, politely refuse to discuss things like dating during financial discussions.
  • Do not let your spouse or their attorney bully or force you into a decision. If you’re not sure about something, put the issue on hold while you have time to investigate it and yield an educated decision.
  • If you’re being pressured, don’t succumb by giving an immediate response. Instead, ask for a few minutes to think about it.
  • Do not drink alcohol or take drugs before a session to calm your nerves. They can inadvertently impair your judgement.

We sincerely hope this information helps. If you are looking for a Los Angeles divorce attorney, contact our firm today to schedule a confidential, free consultation.