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Negotiating a Settlement Out of Court

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Negotiating a Settlement Out of Court

Going through a divorce is never easy. But amidst the emotional turmoil, tackling the legalities before a judge adds another layer of stress, expense, and, in some cases, animosity. The good news is that many couples successfully negotiate a divorce settlement out of court. By agreeing to work together for a mutually beneficial outcome, you could also lower the emotional temperature between you and your ex, which can benefit you and your kids if you have them.

Focus on the Most Important Issues

Money and financial assets are a big part of a divorce settlement. But they’re not the only crucial matters you should include in a negotiation. Here are the top three issues in most divorce proceedings:

  • Division of Assets and Debts – Decide on a fair split of marital property, including houses, vehicles, investments, and debts. Consider factors like each person’s contributions during the marriage, such as being the primary breadwinner or staying home as a full-time parent.
  • Child Custody and Support – Create a parenting plan outlining custody arrangements, visitation schedules, and child support payments. And if you have pets instead of kids, you’ll want to create an equitable sharing plan for them.
  • Spousal Support (Alimony) – Determine if one spouse requires financial assistance from the other and, if so, agree on the amount and duration of such support.

Be Truthful About Your Finances

Transparency is vital in any negotiation, and this applies especially to finances. Before you meet, gather all relevant financial documents, including:

  • Bank statements
  • Pay stubs
  • Recent tax returns (including state income tax, if applicable)
  • 401(k) and other pension fund statements
  • Stocks and investments
  • Asset valuations (car, jewelry, vacation home)
  • Credit card bills, student loans, and other debts 

Communicate and Cooperate

Establish a communication method that works for you and your ex. Whether through email, mediation sessions, or collaborative meetings, clear communication reduces misunderstandings and fosters a more productive dialogue. Both parties should agree to:

  • Prioritize your communication to settle matters as quickly and efficiently as possible.
  • Avoid using your children as intermediaries.
  • Stick to the matters at hand and avoid bringing up old arguments.

Explore Alternative Dispute Resolution Methods

A neutral third party can help you negotiate a settlement outside of a courtroom. Around 70 percent of disputes are resolved, according to Corporate Mediation Journal. ADR encompasses various methods for settling outside of court, such as:

  • Mediation – A mediator facilitates communication and helps you and your spouse reach mutually agreeable solutions.
  • Collaborative Divorce – Both spouses and their respective lawyers work collaboratively to settle, fostering a more amicable environment.

Some family courts require couples to try mediation first. Although it’s not appropriate for all situations (for example, if there is domestic abuse and violence), it is worth trying to negotiate a settlement. You can always go to court, but it doesn’t have to be your first and only option.

Put It In Writing

Both you and your ex deserve to know the exact terms of your settlement. Two documents play an important role during negotiation and as you approach the legal finalization of your divorce:

  • Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) – While not legally binding, an MOU is a valuable reference point for the formal legal agreement.
  • Formal Divorce Settlement – Once you and your ex agree on the significant issues, it’s time to formalize the settlement. Work with your respective attorneys to draft the required legal documents, such as the marital settlement agreement, child support, spousal support, and parenting plan.

Consult With Your Respective Attorneys

Negotiating a Settlement Out of CourtBoth parties should have separate legal counsel, even if they agree to most terms out of court. An experienced family law attorney can:

  • Review the MOU and advise you before drafting the formal settlement.
  • Answer your questions or concerns about your parenting plan, community property, and other issues.
  • Ensure child support is fair and in the best interests of your children, and discuss the next steps if child support isn’t paid on time or at all.
  • Explain the details of the formal settlement so you know what you agree to in this legally binding document.

What If Your Spouse Refuses to Negotiate a Divorce?

Although many couples successfully negotiate an amicable settlement, others do not. If you have tried alternative dispute resolution and still cannot deal with your ex, contact an experienced divorce lawyer. They can represent you, shield you from emotional conflict, and advocate for a fair settlement. Even if you and your spouse reach a tentative agreement, consult a trained attorney to ensure an equitable arrangement. Contact Marshall & Taylor PLLC at (919) 833-1040 for a free consultation.