Divorce is never a pleasant experience. Sometimes the process can turn into an overwhelming legal battle. Getting a fair divorce settlement means looking after, not only what you need today, but what you will need in the future. There are several things you will need to do in order to obtain a fair divorce settlement.
When negotiating a settlement you have to think about what is fair today and in the future. An “equitable split” could turn out to be less than equitable five years down the road.
Here are tips for negotiating a divorce settlement agreement that takes into consideration your needs today and any future needs.
Start Collecting Information and Educating Yourself
Before seeing a divorce attorney you need to gather accurate information about the marital finances, such as assets, income, and debt. If you are out of the financial loop, your spouse has been the one to take care of those matters then you need to educate yourself and start digging into exactly what is going on financially.
Make Copies of Documents
Be sure to copy any documents pertaining to these 9 things:
- Marital Assets:
You want to be able to show what the marital net worth is. How much of that net worth is provided by assets you can claim as your own and assets your spouse can claim as their own. If you have a bank account that is in both names but you are the only one who contributes to the account you can realistically claim that money as your personal asset.
What is the gross income of both spouses, not just bring home income that you each earn from a third party? Also, what benefits are paid for from those jobs, for example, health insurance or pension plans.
- Marital Debt:
How much debt do you have jointly, what is the interest rate paid on the debt and what is the expected repayment date? You need to show any available lines of credit and how much of your marital assets are in cash or can readily be converted to cash. Assets that can be converted to cash can be used to cover expenses during the divorce process or pay off any existing marital debt.
- Tax Returns:
At least three years income tax returns should be provided to your attorney. When negotiating alimony and calculating child support you will need proof of which spouse earns the most. Tax returns are also good when attempting to figure out what has been paid into IRAs and other investment accounts.
- Joint Accounts:
Make copies of all bank or investment accounts that are in both spouse’s name. Copies of bank account statements are a good way to show daily living expenses and what money comes in and where it goes when it leaves the account.
- Insurance Policies:
Homeowners, car, and life insurance can all be viewed as a marital asset during divorce. Who will continue to pay premiums on such policies or whether to continue to carry the insurance will be taken into account during divorce settlement negotiations. One thing to think about is the need for an ex to continue to carry life insurance with you as the beneficiary. If there are small children this is beneficial to keep one parent from dealing with financial hardship.
- Business Records:
If there is a business that both spouses have invested time and money into, you need to know the value of the business. There will be the need to decide to sell the business and split the proceeds or whether one spouse will buy out the other spouse so the business can continue to operate.
- Land Line and Cell Phone Bills:
You can find out quite a bit about your spouse’s life from looking at phone bills. If there is an affair taking place there will normally be a lot of calls to the other man/woman. If your spouse is hiding assets phone bills can be invaluable in finding out if your spouse is talking regularly to someone who is helping them attempt to play dirty divorce tricks.
- Employee Benefit Documents:
Could your spouse be getting work bonuses you don’t know about? Maybe there are stock options and other perks you aren’t aware of. Having a copy of your spouse’s employment contract will reveal these things and more.
What Constitutes A Fair Divorce Settlement?
If done correctly, especially where there are extensive marital assets you will need the services of a divorce financial analyst. When you start delving into finances the issue becomes complex, it only makes sense to have someone on your side who is trained to deal with such issues.
An equitable or fair settlement is easy to come by if both spouses are gainfully employed and have built or, are building lucrative careers. This isn’t the norm, though, most divorces involve small children which means one spouse has been out of the workforce and one has been building a career.
In this case, the traditional 50/50 split of assets and debts doesn’t work. If you’ve invested decades in the marriage, raising children and helping your spouse further their career you don’t want to end up living less comfortably than your ex after years of hard work.
If you’ve been out of the workforce for decades it can be almost impossible to regain any lost earning potential when re-entering the workforce at middle age. Also, the cost of running a single-parent household isn’t less than the cost of running a two-parent household. If you are going to be left to finish raising and provide for your children’s lifestyle it only makes sense that “equitable” doesn’t equate to fair.
This is why you need to take into consideration during settlement negotiations your needs now and later. It is about taking care of your financial life from this point on and courts are more and more likely to take into consideration the future needs of the low income earning spouse.
When Inequitable Is More Reasonable
In 1998, a Tennessee appeals court refused to overturn a lower court’s ruling in Dillinger v. Dellinger that awarded 65% of the marital property to the housewife spouse in a marriage of 28 years. The interesting thing about the above case isn’t the final divorce settlement but the wording in the appeals courts response to the appeal.
The appellate court judges upheld the lower court divorce order because the divorce financial analyst hired by the wife had testified about the “future financial position” of the lower-income earning wife. The appellate court said it “had to consider the issue of future not merely the present” financial position of both spouses.
This doesn’t mean that a court is going to set an ex-spouse up for a life of leisure at the expense of the other spouse. It does mean that courts will rule in favor of both spouses living an equal lifestyle after the divorce or, a lifestyle they have become accustomed to.
To obtain a fair settlement your goal should be to determine how a combination of income, property division, and spousal support can come together with a post-divorce budget and help you reach your targeted lifestyle.