How to Negotiate Your Divorce Without Losing Your Shirt

What many divorcing couples don't realize is that, even if they have lawyers, they often end up negotiating at least a part of their case themselves. Either their lawyers are arguing in circles and getting nowhere, or the couple just gets so sick of fighting that they work out a deal on their own.
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Most lawyers will tell you not to even try to negotiate your own divorce settlement. That's because most lawyers believe that they can negotiate for you better than you can negotiate for yourself.

For many people, that is probably true. Negotiating, especially with someone you can barely stand to speak to anymore, is tough. Negotiating something as emotional as your own divorce, is even tougher. But, it's not rocket science either. For many people, it's also necessary -- hiring high-powered attorneys and fighting in court is just too expensive.

What many divorcing couples don't realize is that, even if they have lawyers, they often end up negotiating at least a part of their case themselves. Either their lawyers are arguing in circles and getting nowhere (while the legal bills mount up), or the couple just gets so sick of fighting that they work out a deal on their own.

While divorce negotiations are definitely not for everyone, negotiating even a part of your own divorce settlement can save you time and money, if you do it right! Here are 10 tips for how to negotiate your divorce directly with your soon-to-be-ex.

1. Understand Your Finances BEFORE You Open Your Mouth. If you don't know what your financial situation is, or you don't understand your finances, you MUST get help BEFORE you negotiate anything! You wouldn't ride in a car being driven by a blind man. Don't try to negotiate yourself unless you have a firm grasp on your finances and understand what you own and owe.

If you need help, hire a financial advisor to explain your finances to you. If, after doing that, you still don't feel comfortable talking about finances, or you don't understand how they work, then don't negotiate for yourself! The cost of lawyer-led negotiation is nothing compared to what you will lose by negotiating a bad deal.

2. Make Sure You Understand What the Law Requires and Allows, Especially When it Comes to Your Kids. Judges care about children. Unless they are given a really good reason not to do so, they will require you to comply with the child support laws of your state. They will require a parenting schedule that allows both you and your spouse to have a relationship with your children. They will demand that your overall divorce settlement be fair.

You don't need to have a law degree to understand the basics of what you need to know to negotiate your divorce settlement. Spend an hour or two with your lawyer or a divorce educator learning how the divorce system works and what the law requires. Do your homework before you start negotiating.

3.Know What You Want. This sounds so simple. Yet so many people wander through their divorce wanting "what's fair" without ever stopping to consider what "fair" really looks like. Be precise. What exactly do you want? Write it down. Write all of your "wants" down. Then rank them in order of importance. You will never get everything you want, but if you know what is most important, you can negotiate for that.

4.Know What You Need. To know what you need you have to have a budget and a balance sheet. You need to know what you and your spouse earn, what you have, and what you owe. Having enough income and support to be able to pay your bills is not just a want, it is a need. That is something you should not bargain away.

5.Know What Your Spouse Wants and Needs. 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. 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.

6.Know Your Bottom Line. As Kenny Rogers says, "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." If your spouse won't settle on terms you can live with, then you have to be ready and able to walk away. Sometimes, only a judge can make someone become reasonable. You also need to reality check your settlement proposal and make sure that you are not the one who is being unreasonable. (Hint: If your lawyer tells you your demands are unrealistic, listen!)

7.Check Your Emotions at the Door. Yes, this one is tough. This is why most people would rather let their lawyer negotiate their divorce than try to do it themselves. But nothing will derail your discussion faster than falling back into the same old argument you have had with your spouse for the last few years of your marriage. Also, if things get too heated, take a break. Don't start talking again until things have cooled down.

8.Be Willing to Brainstorm Alternatives. Your way is not the only way to do things. (Sorry!) Try to keep an open mind. Ask your lawyer and financial advisor to help come up with various settlement scenarios that might meet your needs, your spouse's needs, and your children's needs. Listen to your spouse's ideas. The more options you have to choose from, the more likely it is that you will land on a settlement that works for everyone.

9.Set the Ground Rules Before You Begin. If you want to be able to have your lawyer review your agreement before you make the terms final, make sure you tell your spouse that BEFORE you start negotiating. You don't want your spouse won't feel like you are going back on what you agreed if, at the end of your negotiation, you say that you want your lawyer to review your agreement. (PS Having your lawyer review your agreement before it is final is always a good idea!)

10.Always Have a Strategy and a Plan. If you don't know where you are going, you will end up wherever you end. That is not a plan. A plan is knowing what you want and having some idea about how you can get it. A strategy is the approach you will take in implementing your plan. As a general rule, never lead with your bottom line. Know what you are willing to give up. Then negotiate.

Negotiating with your ex is not for everyone. If you can't do it yourself, but you still want to hold down your legal costs you might think about hiring a mediator to help you and your ex negotiate more effectively. You can also look into collaborative divorce, which will allow you and your spouse to negotiate with the help of divorce professionals who are in the room with you.

Any way you do it, though, negotiating a settlement will always be way less expensive and time consuming than fighting with your spouse in court.

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