Keep Calm and Come to the Table—11 Expert Tips to Help You Negotiate a Fair Settlement

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The divorce process is long, labor-intensive, and emotionally taxing—even when you both know it’s the right decision and desire a smooth, straightforward, and equitable resolution.

You will have to sort through many complex and contentious issues, including the division of assets, spousal/child support, and custody/visitation. Inevitably, there will be times when you and your ex have very different views, causing feelings to run hot.

But remember that, when possible, negotiating a reasonable agreement is typically easier on everyone than battling it out in court. Your divorce settlement will be a legally binding blueprint for the new life—and if you have children, the ongoing partnership—you are building.

A fair settlement is built on trust, communication, transparency, willingness to work together, and compromise. That’s not easy when so much is at stake—but your approach to negotiation can make a real difference.

It’s business. The law sees your divorce strictly as a business transaction. That may feel cold, but accepting that can help you take emotion out of the negotiating process and commit to reaching an agreement.

Focus on interests and values—avoid hardline positions.

Don’t drive a hard bargain to make a point or stick it to your spouse. That will heighten conflict, cause delays, and prolong the process.

Preserve your relationship. Especially if you’ll be co-parenting, you need to be able to work together peacefully and effectively. Do your best not to burn the bridge.

Recognize your partner’s perspective, perceptions, and feelings. Listen with openness. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll see many things differently, but negotiation will only work if you’re hearing what the other person wants and needs and why.

Acknowledge your feelings, then keep them in check. It’s normal to be emotional, but a meltdown can mean a breakdown in the negotiating process. And unfortunately, revealing your emotional triggers makes you vulnerable to having them used against you. Do your best to stay objective, calm, logical, and reasonable. Practice your poker face.

Educate yourself. When one party has more knowledge or information than the other, it’s nearly impossible to reach a fair settlement. Talk to your attorney; ask questions about relevant areas of the law, how to manage expectations, what documents you’ll need to provide, rights and responsibilities concerning children, and so forth. Make sure there is full financial disclosure.

Transparency breeds trust. It’s common for one partner to know more about a specific area—to handle most family financial matters, for example. Be proactive about disclosure and willing to educate your partner. If your ex has requested financial discovery, accommodate them quickly with organized files. Signal good faith by asking, “Are there any other documents I can provide to help you?”

Communication is key. Negotiations rely on open communication. Say what you mean calmly and respectfully. Listen. Make sure you understand what your partner is saying. Use positive, helpful language such as:

Can we go over this again, so I’m sure I understand?

Correct me if I’m wrong…

My understanding is… Do you agree?

Focus on the problem to be solved—not the other person. Dealing with your ex can dredge up feelings of hurt, anger, loss, jealousy, failure, and more. Intense, negative emotions may make you want to lash out or seek revenge, which is understandable but not conducive to productive negotiation. Focus on the issues, and stay as clinical as you can.

Seek win-win solutions. California is a community property state, meaning that all assets acquired during your marriage will be divided 50/50. However, there’s room for trade-offs that can make each partner feel more satisfied. Get to the root of what each of you genuinely values—it’s usually possible to align those interests. Sometimes people are willing to forego a specific asset gain in exchange for something that meets another kind of need. It’s unlikely you’ll get everything you want, so consider what you care about most and what will make you feel reasonably satisfied and at peace with the outcome.

The first step in a divorce is choosing the right law firm, which can diffuse tension and help keep your negotiations harmonious and business-like. Seek the advice of a knowledgeable family law attorney—right from the start. The experienced family law attorneys at SFLG offer professional and compassionate guidance through every divorce stage. They know how to apply the law and the facts in your favor, whether at the negotiating table or in the courtroom. With SFLG, you can be sure you’ll have a lawyer that hears and understands you and cares about the aspects of divorce that matter most to you.

By Debra Schoenberg

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