When you go through a divorce in California, you’ll have to go through several steps — and one of them is creating a divorce property settlement. Here’s how to negotiate during divorce so you can reach a fair, reasonable outcome.
How to Negotiate During Divorce
If you’re like most people, you have no idea how to negotiate during divorce. That’s okay, because you probably haven’t been through it before.
However, before we get into how to negotiate, we need to cover:
- What is a property settlement?
- Whether you have to settle on debt
- Divorce property settlement laws in California
What is a Property Settlement in Divorce?
California is a community property state. That means the property you acquire (beginning on the day you marry and ending on the day your marriage ends) is supposed to be divided equally between you when you divorce.
A property settlement agreement is the agreement you and your spouse reach to divide your property equally and fairly. Equal doesn’t always mean 50-50, though. It can mean that you each get your own vehicle, even if one is valued more highly than the other, and for the most part, the courts will take into account whether you feel the agreement is fair and equitable.
Does a Divorce Settlement Agreement Include Debt?
A divorce settlement agreement does include debt. All of the debt you incur while you’re married is considered community property; you’re both responsible for it.
Divorce Property Settlement Laws in California
In many cases, divorcing couples can figure out a property division arrangement that works for everyone involved.
However, if you and your spouse cannot reach an agreement, or if the agreement you reach is obviously skewed unfairly to one side, the Superior Court steps in and splits your property and debt equally.
Now that you’re familiar with the concepts you’ll have to deal with, here’s how to negotiate during divorce.
How to Negotiate During Divorce: 5 Tips to Help You Figure Out Your Divorce Property Settlement
Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to reach an agreement on your own. If you can’t, you’ll force the judge to step in. That can drag out your divorce, and often, couples come out of the courtroom feeling as if they’ve both lost. (Your Stockton divorce and property settlement lawyer will encourage you to reach an agreement with your spouse long before you show up in court because doing so will save you time and money — and you’ll have fewer headaches with the whole ordeal.)
Check out these five tips as you learn how to negotiate during divorce:
- Remember that divorce and property division are business transactions.
- Be logical and reasonable every step of the way.
- Watch for coercive tactics.
- Use helpful, rather than harmful, phrases.
- Don’t become trapped in predictable scenarios.
#1. Pledge to Look at Your Divorce and Property Division Issues as Business Transactions
When you divorce, you’re dissolving your marriage contract. While that seems like an unfeeling way to look at things, it’s how the law sees it—and your property division is no different. Treating property division as a negotiation process can make things much simpler.
#2. Be Logical and Reasonable
You can’t afford to ignore the “big picture” when you’re negotiating a divorce settlement with your spouse. You don’t have to be adversarial; in fact, looking at a divorce like something you have to win can be counterproductive.
Related: More divorce negotiation tips
#3. Watch for Coercive Tactics
While coercive tactics can be tough to spot, if your spouse is attempting to use them on you, it’s imperative that you stop, back away from the process, and regroup. Coercive tactics that some spouses employ include:
- Personal attacks, including insults and implications
- Lying or threats
- Psychological tricks, such as attempting to get you to feel guilty
- Refusal to negotiate
- Escalating demands
- Planning delays to make things more difficult for you
- Withholding money or access to your children
Chances are good that your divorce attorney is going to notice these tactics if your spouse uses them — they’re actually fairly common in adversarial divorces.
#4. Use Helpful Phrases to Encourage Your Spouse to Cooperate
Negotiations come to a grinding halt when one party says, “I’m not going to let you win.”
Remember that in successful negotiations, both parties “win.” When you’re working with your spouse to reach an agreement, try phrases that help the process along, such as:
- “Can we go over this again to make sure I understand it correctly?
“Please correct me if I’m wrong, but…”
“My main concern is fairness.”
“Or we could try…”
#5. Don’t Become Trapped in Predictable Scenarios
It’s perfectly normal for divorce negotiations to seep into your emotions. The key, though, is not letting your emotions rule the negotiation process. When your spouse becomes angry or attempts to drag you into a disagreement, step back. Take some time to cool down and let your attorney summarize the issue so you can move forward.
What Should I Ask for in a Divorce Settlement?
If you’re like many people, you’ve heard divorce stories that run the length of the entire spectrum — some people say, “She took everything from me!” while others say, “We had a fair settlement. Actually, maybe I got more than he did.”
So what should you ask for in a divorce settlement?
The answer is simple: Ask for what you need to be reasonably satisfied with the outcome. Remember, too, that the judge is unlikely to sign off on anything that’s patently unfair (to you or your spouse). Don’t ask for the house, the cars, all the furniture, your savings accounts and half your spouse’s retirement — even if you’re pretty sure you deserve all those things.
California is a community property state, which means the assets you and your spouse acquired while you were married belong to both of you. You can make trade-offs, but make sure you’re asking for things you actually want. If you only want the house so you can sell it and pocket the proceeds, you need to know that the courts will expect you to trade something of equal value — and if your spouse would remain in the house with the children, it’s probably not a great idea to try to fight for it.
How Do You Negotiate Spousal Support?
Negotiating spousal support can be one of the most difficult aspects of your divorce. Before you begin negotiations, remember that the judge in your case will only sign off on your agreement if it’s fair to both of you — and if the paying party can reasonably afford it.
When one spouse doesn’t agree that the other needs spousal support, negotiating for it can be incredibly difficult. You may need your attorney to step in. However, if you’re both in agreement that some spousal support should change hands, make sure that you can see things from your spouse’s point of view.
Try these tips to negotiate spousal support:
- Stay calm. If either of you becomes upset, negotiations are going to grind to a halt.
- Don’t point the finger or make demands. Try saying things like, “I feel upset when you say I’m asking for too much. It’s difficult for me to support myself when I need to go to school to learn marketable skills. I’d like it if you could help me with $X so I can get on my feet.”
- Actively listen to what your spouse is saying. That means summarize what he or she is saying and repeat it back so that your spouse knows you’re actually paying attention.
- Ask questions to help your spouse collaborate with you. Think about saying things like, “I’m worried about being able to pay a sitter while I’m at school. What are your ideas?”
You don’t have to know exactly how to negotiate during divorce… but you do need to go into it with a positive attitude and be willing to settle for a reasonable outcome. You also have to know that your lawyer is here to help you every step of the way.
Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer About How to Negotiate During Divorce?
We can help you with your divorce and property settlement agreement. Just call us at 209-910-9865 to tell us what you’re going through. We’ll put together a strategy that gets you the best possible outcome.