A contested divorce is where couples cannot agree on the terms of their separation. These terms typically cover child custody, alimony, division of conjugal properties and debts, and other issues. In some cases, one spouse may not want to divorce, leading them to contest the divorce case itself.
When it comes to contested divorce cases, the costs are both financial and emotional, especially when they get dragged out in court. To keep it from getting unnecessarily lengthy and to ensure you remain in control of the outcome of your case, you can choose to negotiate with your spouse.
Negotiating a contested divorce is often complex and challenging as spouses are usually not ready to compromise, especially when they’re holding grudges. However, judges and attorneys usually advise couples to go this route even when the case is about to enter trial.
So, how do you navigate this? Here’s a quick look at the best tactics in negotiating contested divorce cases.
Table of Contents
1. Hire an experienced divorce attorney
Once a divorce case gets contested, it becomes a series of legal battles that may even take years before an agreement can be reached. As such, you need to hire an attorney who’s experienced in divorce cases in your state or jurisdiction to protect your interests throughout the negotiation process. The benefits of a divorce attorney in contested divorces can never be overstated.
First, your spouse will likely hire a divorce lawyer, too. Therefore, approaching the negotiation table without a lawyer will disadvantage you. Your lawyer will help you understand the legal aspects of the battle and argue your case in your best interest.
Secondly, the “pro se” documents for self-representation often awarded by courts use simplistic language that may not account for all scenarios in a divorce. These forms don’t always cover terms such as how to divide retirement accounts. But if you work with a divorce lawyer, they can ensure that all legal aspects of your case are considered in detail and that the negotiation is all-encompassing.
2. Prepare in detail
The second step is preparing all the necessary documents and discussing your priorities and interests with your attorney. Organize your financial documents, such as bank statements, tax reports, bills, and any other paperwork that can support your desired outcome. These papers will come in handy during property and debt division negotiations to show your financial position, who paid the bills, or who should settle which debts.
Secondly, reflect on your interests and priorities before starting your negotiations. What’s the most important thing you want to gain from marriage? Do you want full or shared custody of your children? Do you want to keep your marital home? Will you need spousal support after the divorce?
You should then go through these priorities with your attorney. They can help you decide on what is more important and what you should be willing to compromise. They can also advise if your preferences and what you seek to gain align with your legal rights and obligations.
3. Be clear and assertive
Being clear and assertive in divorce negotiations means communicating your needs and wants clearly and honestly. You should avoid being aggressive and disrespectful, as this can be used against you. Articulate what you want and defend it without looking like you’re bullying or intimidating the other party.
Here are some general tips to help you remain clear during the negotiations:
- Use “I” statements: Using “I” statements will help you avoid sounding like you’re blaming your partner and refusing accountability. Instead, focus on what you want and back it up with plausible reasons. For example, saying: “I want to make sure I’m financially stable to support the children,” communicates your message better than “you don’t want to give me more money to support the children.”
- Be specific: Avoid making general statements like “I want more money.” Instead, be specific and explain what you need and why you need it. Instead, say, “I need USD$15,000 a month to cover the costs of our children’s expenses.”
But while you’re being clear and assertive about what you want to get from the divorce, you must also respect your spouse’s needs. In most cases, there’ll be conflict, like who gets the marital house. Discuss and find a solution that works best for both of you, as this is the whole point of the negotiation.
4. Be willing to compromise
Compromise is essential in any divorce proceeding, and it’s particularly important when negotiating a contested divorce. For you to gain something, you should be ready to lose some. But this doesn’t mean making concessions you aren’t comfortable with. Think about what you’re willing to keep and what you’re willing to lose. A good starting point is having a priority list. What are the most important things you want to keep from your marriage, and which ones are you willing to lose?
While making a priority list, don’t have unrealistic expectations. You’ll likely be disappointed by the outcome of the negotiations if you expect to win big. Remember, the purpose of the negotiations is to have a fair and equitable outcome for both parties.
Additionally, you should be willing to listen to the needs of your spouse. Set aside your emotions and acknowledge their feelings, wants, and needs objectively. The divorce won’t just affect you, but them too. Ideally, the outcome of the negotiation should be favorable to the two of you. Besides, they’re more likely to compromise if you can show you’re willing to do the same.
5. Provide all the facts
Failure to provide all the facts in a divorce negotiation can derail your chances of a fair settlement. One thing you should never try to do is hide assets. First, if you’re found out, you’ll be sanctioned in court, and you may end up losing more. Secondly, you may have to live with the guilt of knowing your partner and children are struggling financially because of your hidden assets.
Therefore, ensure that your financial disclosure is complete, and if you feel like your partner is hiding something, talk to your attorney about requesting an audit. The only way a fair settlement can happen is if both of you are well-informed about each other’s financial standing.
Concluding a divorce
Going through divorce itself can be draining emotionally and financially, and even more so when one party contests the terms. The good thing is there’s always room for negotiation so long as either party is willing to compromise. Just remember never to start negotiations until you’re armed with legal know-how and detailed supporting documents. With the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney and staying level-headed throughout the process, you can equip yourself with the knowledge and attitude you need to turn the table around in your favor.
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