How good are you at negotiating? Most people tend to exaggerate their own negotiating abilities, from presidents on down to next door neighbors. In getting to an equitable (we didn’t say equal) divorce settlement, negotiating is key.

Equitable Versus Equal

Imagine you and your wife have three children. Imagine you are all staring at five cookie jars tucked away on top of the kitchen cabinets. Everyone in the family is a different height.

Equal means everybody gets a two-step kitchen stool to use in fetching the cookie jars, even if Little Linda still cannot reach her cookie jar.

Equitable means Little Linda gets a ladder while lengthy, lanky lad Larry gets nothing. Everyone gets what they deserve, their own cookie jar.

In negotiating a divorce settlement, the goal is equity, not equality. Did you put in the lion’s share of retirement funds? You should get the lion’s share out. Is Lanky Larry headed for trade school while Little Linda is college material? Did your wife provide “nontangible” support for your career? Then she may deserve your appreciation and spousal support for a defined duration.

Arriving at Equity

Negotiation, it is said, is about getting to “Yes,” but that masks the messy entirety of it, especially in a divorce. Negotiation is about first agreeing on the reality, then gradually compromising until equity (not equality) is reached.

The assets in a divorce are finite, fixed, and countable. If one side sees a pie and the other side sees a small tart, right away neither side accepts the other side’s reality.

You and your attorney need to consult closely before beginning any negotiation so you both have a clear and shared vision of the reality, the goal, and the settlement.

Getting Expert Advice

To begin clarifying reality, we offer these tips:

  1. Collect financial information and educate yourself
  2. Make copies of all pertinent documents — marital assets, marital debt, income, taxes, insurance policies, joint account statements, employee benefits, utility bills and account numbers, and more
  3. Determine your future financial needs and protect them

Using the documents and estimates of your future needs, you and your attorney can make an effective case as to the reality (not your wife’s view) of your situation.

What if your wife and her attorney immediately quibble about valuation? Your retirement pension will be worth $X more in 20 years; the marital home is worth $X than when you bought it. You may find it wise to get a neutral financial advisor to examine the marital assets and debts.

The same experts at Divorce Magazine suggest openly dividing assets based on tax impact, too; after the divorce your wife will probably be in a lower tax bracket than you and can receive retirement assets that will be taxed at that level.

Yes, It’s Okay to Agree

Some Virginia men develop a case of The Kneejerk No, as in, whatever the other side asks for, the answer is, “No.” If your wife and her attorney ask for something reasonable, grant it. Move on. You provide emotional collateral with a quick assent, so later you can make a more difficult ask.

Be cautious, of course — we do not suggest blurting out, “I’ll take it!” during a negotiation. Let your attorney do the talking, the agreeing, and the arguing.

Consider the Kids

As we have said numerous times, Virginia does not expend much energy on you and your wife if kids are involved. The kids’ interests are always protected, so:

  • Offer to cover the children’s healthcare insurance if your plan is better than your wife’s
  • Offer to deposit money into a future education fund for their trade school or college, with the understanding that your wife will put money into it, too, as she can afford
  • Offer to have her buy you out of your share of the marital home so the children can continue living in it, their lives largely undisturbed, at least geographically

Be a Good Man

Divorce is no reason to alter your personality. Keep the long view, and if you can afford to offer goodwill gestures, offer them.

  1. Give thought to what your wife wants and what may be best for her
  2. Balance her needs and wants with your own
  3. Imagine and understand the best and worst cases

For example, if the worst-case scenario your attorney describes means you live in a small apartment for two years while your children continue in their same neighborhood and schools, the settlement may well be worth signing.

Never Say Never

If, on the other hand, you sense that your wife is out for blood, out to destroy your future financial stability, be realistic about what you can afford to give up. Fight to preserve yourself.

You and your attorney, under Virginia Code § 20-107.3 and § 20-108 can seek to renegotiate the property settlement agreement, spousal support conditions, or child support payments. Though the divorce decree is final, not every aspect of it is written in stone.

Under Code of Virginia § 20-155 the property settlement agreement is a legal contract in effect immediately upon execution, but it can be abrogated later. Some reasons include a material change in circumstance, your wife hiding assets from you, or her refusal to comply.

Call The Firm For Men and Protect Your Rights

Do not negotiate your divorce settlement without the experienced counsel of The Firm For Men. or by telephoning 757-383-9184. We can work with you to ensure your rights are protected during property settlement. We can sit with you at every settlement negotiation and conference. And we will be with you long after the divorce is final, to defend your rights and preserve your financial security.