Many couples choose to negotiate a settlement for their divorce rather than take their issues public in court. When you agree to settle, you and your spouse make all the important decisions about your family instead of a judge who knows little about you. The process is usually quicker than litigation and gives you more control over your life.
Your divorce settlement negotiations set the tone for your post-divorce future, especially if you and your spouse end up sharing custody over your children. Whether you have kids or not, you want to get the best possible result from your divorce settlement. You want to come prepared with a logical and strategic approach to the negotiation table.
If you’re a successful professional with a portfolio of complex assets, you have a lot at stake in your divorce. California marriages have community property, which means property division will be a major aspect of your settlement negotiations. Your best bet is to find a team of California family lawyers who specialize in high-net-worth asset divorce. This could involve:
- Startup and company stock valuation
- Forensic investigation and accounting
- Investment portfolio valuation or division
- Expert property appraisals
- Stock Option division and valuation
At the end of your settlement negotiations, you and your spouse will sign a Marital Settlement Agreement, otherwise known as a Property Settlement Agreement. If you have children, you will also negotiate a Custody and Support Agreement. When the negotiation process is over, your legal team will file your settlement agreement with the court to make your divorce official.
Preparing for High-Net-Worth Divorce Settlement Negotiations
Most negotiations follow a similar pattern. You’ll meet first with your divorce lawyer to go over your situation and goals for the future. All meetings and communications with your lawyer are confidential and protected by attorney-client privilege. You should be open and honest with your lawyer so they can get the full picture and avoid surprises down the line.
Your legal team will then contact your spouse’s lawyer for their needs and demands. Before negotiations begin, you and your attorney will plan your approach. Settlement negotiations may take anywhere between a single session to several meetings, phone calls, or letters to resolve all of your issues. A sound, pre-planned strategy can help the negotiation process proceed smoothly.
What steps can you take to reach the best outcome in your divorce settlement?
Get Professional Representation to Keep Emotions in Check
Not all divorces are bitter or adversarial. But even if you and your spouse are on good terms, you shouldn’t try to work out your divorce on your own. Think of the situation like a surgeon operating on their immediate family. Even the most unflappable professional can be caught blindsided by emotion when so much is at stake to them personally.
When you’re divorcing, your entire way of life is on the line – where you and your children will live, who will own your business, what your monthly bills will cost. The emotional toll of divorce can rival that of losing a loved one. Allowing a capable and dedicated legal professional to handle the details gives you the emotional and mental space you need to process your divorce and move forward. It also helps protect your interests when you otherwise might be vulnerable.
Your lawyer can guide you on the legal realities that apply to your divorce. They can help you anticipate issues or problems that you otherwise might not consider. The better you resolve potential difficulties in your settlement, the fewer bumps you’ll experience post-divorce.
Know Your Finances and Goals Going Into the Bargaining Table
You should compile all of your financial information as early in the process as possible to get an idea of exactly where you stand. This includes income, expenses, assets, liabilities, and debts. Your spouse will likely ask you for this information and vice versa, and California law mandates that this information be exchanged and formally known as Declarations of Disclosures.
You and your attorney will discuss your financial goals and establish what you want your financial future to look like after your divorce. If you suspect your spouse is concealing income or assets from you, you may need a forensic accounting investigation.
Your attorney will also help you understand the specific California community property laws that apply to your assets, debts, and spousal support calculations before negotiations begin. You can’t negotiate effectively without understanding the position you start under state law.
Avoid Hard Positional Bargaining
The goal of settlement negotiations is to ultimately agree on certain terms. Approaching the negotiating table with hard lines drawn in the sand can frustrate this purpose.
Rather than picking a position and sticking to it, focus on your interests by priority. What are the interests that are most important to you and how can you achieve them?
For example, you could decide that you won’t accept any offers of spousal support that are less than a specific amount of dollars per month. Or you can recognize the interest you’re trying to protect – the ability to pay your bills in full – and communicate your needs in a clear and reasonable way.
Be Open to Compromise but Know When to Walk Away
You don’t want to burn any bridges with your spouse, especially if you anticipate co-parenting together for the long-term. Divorce settlements naturally require both parties to compromise to come to an agreement without court intervention. If either side is unwilling to bend even a little to meet the other halfway, negotiations will break down.
That being said, sometimes you and your spouse simply cannot come to an agreement on key issues. You may suspect that your spouse is abusing the process or isn’t negotiating in good faith, in which case you may have no choice but to turn to divorce litigation.
Tips for the Settlement Negotiation Process
Although divorce settlement negotiations are a practical solution to a practical problem, they are also a highly personal process. You can take certain steps to lessen the stress:
- Make sure you understand how California law treats the assets, debts, spousal support, and other issues in your case before negotiating.
- Make sure you understand your big-picture goals and interests.
- Conduct yourself respectfully and be on time for appointments
- Try not to react defensively even if you feel attacked
- Don’t feel pressured to respond to new information immediately
- Don’t feel forced into making a decision, even if your lawyer approves
- Avoid using substances to calm your nerves
Clear communication is absolutely critical in divorce settlement negotiations. Although you and your spouse are dissolving your marriage, you’re working together towards an agreement. This requires a certain level of empathy for the “other side.”
A successful divorce settlement can result in a “win-win” for both you and your spouse. The right family law attorney can help you manage your expectations, work through your emotions, stand your ground, and assess your options with a strategic eye. Although divorce is seldom easy, you can achieve a bright post-divorce future for you and your family.