How to Negotiate in a Divorce

There is no one outcome or way to negotiate for a divorce case, because every case is as different as the people pursuing the divorce.

With that in mind, we must consider a variety of details when we negotiate the terms of a divorce. Here are some things to think about when you’re negotiating your divorce:

  1. Identify what is important to you.
  2. Consider what might be important to your spouse.
  3. Be willing to give up something to get something else.

I remember a great example in the book How To Get to Yes. People were in a negotiation, arguing over an orange.

how to negotiate is discussed in the book How to Get to Yes, with the focus on parts of an orange
Photo by Mae Mu on Unsplash

Once they started talking, they realized one person required the skin and the other person required the pulp, so they reached resolution by hearing what the other person needed and finding a way to make it work for both of them. One person took the outside of the orange, the other took the inside, and they settled their case. 

That’s how we negotiate – find ways to satisfy all needs, whenever possible.

Understanding my client’s needs, and listening to determine his or her spouse’s needs, is a key strategy I use when negotiating on behalf of my client.

People can mask hurt and anger in wanting to claim items. Take emotion out of your negotiation and think about what is FAIR.

Recently, I was involved in a negotiation where my client, who was extremely hurt by her husband’s decision to divorce, was steadfast in her desire to retain not only her premarital retirement, but also all of the growth in the account. 

A key point divorcing couples often negotiate is marital monies and businesses
Photo by Darío Martínez-Batlle on Unsplash

Her husband took the opposite position, claiming the growth on the premarital monies was also a marital asset. There were legal arguments that could support both parties. 

At the same time, my client had an interest in a business. The business partnership was fraught with its own difficulties, and the husband knew all about it. It was questionable whether the business had any actual value.  

I asked my client: is it worth forgoing the growth on your premarital account to avoid digging into the partnership, and keep your business intact?

In a divorce negotiation, if one spouse owns a business, you could go down a very expensive road of business valuation and end up having to give a percentage of profits, revenues or equity to an ex-spouse.

Or, you could discover that the cost of the valuation, emotionally and financially, was not worth it.

What would you give up to avoid such a cumbersome, costly process?

Certain big issues tend to be sticking points, so think about your approach before entering into negotiations. 

Issues like:

  • The house – who keeps it, the value of the house, and how we determine its value (market analysis or appraisal?)
  • The children – custody and parenting time 
  • Child support – In-kind compensation (perks), travel miles as income, uncompensated work, family expenses covered by a business
  • Valuations – of a business, a pension  
  • Spousal support – should it be paid, how much and for how long
  • Property division – how to divide property, how to determine what is premarital or separate property

Before you embark on a divorce, have a heart-to-heart with yourself to determine what you’re willing to give up or compromise on, so your negotiations can go more smoothly.

No one gets everything they want; work toward achieving an optimal outcome for yourself and one you can live with that is fair for your spouse. 

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