The idea of negotiating a separation agreement with your spouse can be distressing and even overwhelming. Try to keep in mind that everything will be settled in your divorce, it may take some time and effort, and it may not be easy or pleasant, but all of the issues will be resolved.
The separation agreement may include provisions for property and asset division, spousal maintenance, child support, and child custody. We know from experience that, as difficult as the negotiation of a divorce may sometimes be, it is a far better solution for most couples than turning every disputed issue over to the judge to decide.
A lot of couples will find it emotionally challenging to sit down, negotiate, and settle the terms of their divorce or separation. A little guidance will go a long way toward helping you achieve your goals. So here are a few tips to help you get the best results from your negotiation:
- Meet at neutral territory. You should pick a neutral location for your negotiation. Choose a place where you feel safe. Pre-plan the meeting so the time and location aren’t simply an “off the cuff” decision. If during the negotiation emotions start running hot or arguments ensue, then break off the meeting. There is no benefit to battling through your agenda only to react and disagree on everything. Instead, step back from the negotiation and try again at a later date.
- Write down your agreements. A good technique to get started in the right direction, and make the most productive use of your time, is for each of you to prepare a written list of the things that you are in agreement with. If you’re not in agreement on who gets the bedroom furniture, for example, then set that item aside and move on to the next until you have a complete list of the things that are settled and no longer in dispute.
- Work through what you don’t agree on. What is left now are all of the matters that are in contention. You’ll have to discuss these remaining issues and try to work out some kind of acceptable arrangement. Let your spouse speak and try to listen to what he or she is saying, without falling into argument. Likewise, try to get your spouse to listen to you, without raising your voice and challenging. Don’t let yourself accept what you cannot afford to live on, for example, because you are too frustrated to deal with the negotiation in a businesslike manner. Don’t fence yourself in. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t raise expectations too high. Don’t be shorted or cheated out of what you need to live on.
- Reflect on the property to be divided. Reflect on the nature, description, and value of the community property that must be divided between the two of you.
- Try to settle all the issues at once. You certainly can set up a series of sessions to tackle key areas on different dates. The best approach, though, is to address all the issues at once. Doing so lends itself to more creative negotiations, opening up doors to more options, and represents a cost-savings by avoiding litigation. And when you’ve finished, you have closure on the settled matters.
- Learn and apply the facts. Use factual information to come up with creative solutions and avoid imaginary realities that only promote more conflict. If you’ve reached an impasse, step back and talk about what the court will likely do if you turn the dispute over to the judge for a decision. Do your homework and seek expert assistance to establish what the facts are, such as the real value of your home, and the resale value of the vehicles. Once you both know what the facts are, then you can talk rationally about what is fair. Even those issues that seemed insurmountable may be worked through to arrive at a reasonable result.
- Use leverage. You need to look for any points that will give you leverage in your negotiation. Sometimes leverage comes in the form of a spouse’s attachment to a thing, such as piece of jewelry or art. Leverage can come in the form of your spouse’s sense of duty or pride in doing what is right. Sometimes a constructive negotiation involves leveraging to get what you really want.
- Understand this is a legally binding agreement. Keep in mind that the terms of the settlement agreement, once signed, are legally binding. You should always have an attorney review your proposed settlement agreement before you sign it.