7 Tips for Negotiating a Divorce Settlement

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 business transaction.

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 California’s 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.