How to Negotiate Your Own Divorce Settlement

mature couple talking and writing
 Kali9/Getty Images

If you and your spouse are able to communicate and cooperate, it is possible to negotiate your own divorce settlement without the help of an attorney or mediator.

Tips for Negotiating Your Own Divorce Settlement

Negotiating your own divorce settlement will save money and keep down emotional stress associated with a litigated divorce. 

It is hard work negotiating a divorce settlement. You must be willing to act like adults, which can be hard to do if there is animosity and hurt feelings. For the negotiations to work, you and your spouse must be able to talk without arguing, be honest and open with each other and willing to give as well as take.

You must keep in mind that negotiations are about the legal issues involved in ending your marriage. They have nothing to do with the emotional issues. Leave your emotions at the door or your efforts at negotiating will be fruitless.

To negotiate your own divorce settlement you must do these 5 things:

  1. Be civil to each other.
  2. Leave the reasons for the divorce out of the negotiations. Do not use negotiations as an excuse to rehash the problems in the marriage.
  3. Be willing to allow your spouse to speak without interruption. Be patient, learn good listening skills and eventually you will be able to express your desires also.
  4. Don't become defensive. If your spouse says something you think is unreasonable do not criticize. Just because they ask for something doesn’t mean you have to agree to give it. You should agree to disagree and leave harsh words out of the negotiations.
  5. Be willing to compromise. It is important to know that you won’t get everything you want out of the negotiations. Negotiations will go nowhere if you can't be reasonable about what you think is "rightfully" yours. No one walks away from a divorce with everything they think they should be getting. The goal is to come for a fair settlement on both sides.

Plan A Negotiating Strategy

Before beginning the actual negotiation process you and your spouse should decide when and where to negotiate. You should also make a list of the issues to be negotiated and what information and documents you will both need to bring to the negotiations. You will have more success if you meet on neutral territory.

Strategy planning meetings and the negotiations should take place somewhere that will not bring up old memories or distract from the purpose of the negotiations. Please don’t agree to discuss such important issues in an environment that you know will cause you discomfort.

If you can't fathom negotiating with your spouse in the home you two used to share, then find somewhere else to negotiate. 

Make The Process Efficient and Effective:

You need a plan of action when negotiating a divorce settlement. You’ve made a list of the issues you want to negotiate. Now you will need to decide which issues will be discussed first. Take each issue one at a time, set a time limit for negotiating the issue and then move onto the next issue to be discussed. For example:

If you are discussing child custody, you should each share your needs and desires as far as what is best for your children and what you feel is best as far as your relationship with your children. You need to also take into consideration a custody situation that is best for the children. 

Each spouse should listen, without interruption while the other speaks. If, after sharing your thoughts on the issue being discussed you come to an agreement, document it, sign off on it and move on to the next issue. If you can’t come to an agreement then table the issue and return to it at a later time.

Don’t become frustrated if all issues aren’t resolved in one meeting. It would be quite unusual for this to happen. During your first meeting, take notes so you will know what needs to be taken care of before and at your next meeting. If you find that there are issues you can’t come to an agreement on you may wish to seek outside help.

If you feel you need an impartial observer at the negotiations, consider a therapist or a member of the clergy. If emotions get in the way of negotiations either would be invaluable and help keep you both on track.

Once all issues have been discussed and you've come to an agreement, take that agreement to your lawyers to have it drawn up and filed with the courts.

If, after a few meetings you come to the decision that a settlement can’t be negotiated you should feel no shame in discontinuing the negotiations. If you have kept a civil attitude, tried to compromise and have been honest and open with your feelings and any legal issues concerning property division you have done your best. Your next step would be for each of you to hire an attorney and begin the divorce process.