Divorce and custody negotiations are stressful. How do you know what things to ask for in divorce?
A divorce settlement is the contract that divorcing spouses agree to — whether with the help of attorneys, a mediator, or between the two of them privately — and then is filed in the courts as part of the final divorce paperwork.
The benefits of settling out of court include:
- Lower cost
- Lower stress
- You and your ex have more control of the outcome of the divorce if you agree outside of a courtroom. Otherwise, a judge will determine your fates.
(Your local courthouse will provide you with a divorce settlement agreement, though you can download a free divorce settlement template now for your state from RocketLawyer.)
It's easy to want to plow through negotiations as quickly as possible.
Slow your roll.
Below is a list of what every woman should consider when settling her divorce.
5 things to ask for in a divorce settlement agreement
Keep reading for details about what you should expect to cover in your divorce settlement negotiations, which will likely include (but are often overlooked):
If you are doing your own amicable divorce, learn more about where to get cheap divorce papers in your state and how to file them.
Things to ask for in a divorce: house or the proceeds of a sale
Any real estate that was bought by you and your spouse is typically considered marital property and the assets of which are typically split 50-50 when you divorce. There are many ways that the assets in the home can be transferred or divided.
What happens when you divorce and you own a home together?
Before any equity in the home is divided, first you must understand the value of the home. You and your spouse can agree to a price you that you can estimate the home would sell for today, based on recent home sales of properties in your area. If you cannot come to that agreement, then couples typically hire an appraiser to set a fair-market value for your home.
From there, you can use that number to negotiate other parts of your financial settlement.
Who is entitled to the house in a divorce?
If the house is owned by both the wife and husband, and it was purchased during the marriage, typically both spouses are entitled to equal shares of the equity. There are pros and cons to keeping a house in a divorce — and may not be financially possible for you.
How is a house split in a divorce?
There are several ways to distribute this income:
- One spouse keeps the house, and buys the other out via cash-out refinance.
- Sell the house and split the proceeds. Sell your house for cash in 24 hours? What you need to know
- One spouse keeps the house, and takes less of a retirement distribution or other marital asset in return.
If you choose to refinance the home in order to buy out your ex, Credible will get you pre-qualified in 3 minutes, provides offers shortly after, and allows you to upload all documents online. Get prequalified for a mortgage refinance in 3 minutes with Credible now >>
Can a house sale be forced in divorce?
Sometimes, a divorce decree states that the house must be sold in order to divide the equity in the home, to satisfy debt carried by one or both spouses, or for other financial obligations — in which case this must be adhered to.
If one spouse wants to keep the marital home but cannot come up with the required funds to pay the other spouse the portion agreed upon — or ordered by a judge — then a court could force the sale of the house in order to comply with terms of the divorce.
Things to ask for in a divorce: co-parenting plan
- Equal parenting time
- Co-parenting mandates
- Right of first refusal
- Co-parenting plan
- Coparent communication
- Coparent schedule
- Coparent calendar
- Vacation plans
- Coming-of-age celebrations
Equal parenting time—no child support
I elaborate in detail here why equally shared parenting time in divorce is so important for children and women, but this is very often overlooked in divorce agreements.
By asking your kids' dad to take responsibility as a parent — and not just ‘give' him minimum ‘access' to, or ‘visits' with his kids — it dramatically reduces the conflict between you, dramatically increases the chances he will be actively involved (and not skip out on parenting), and that he will pay any support or extras that is required of him.
Also, when you have a co-parent who equally shares time caring for the kids, this means you have more time to work and earn — which is good for the whole family.
I know it can be hard — I was adamantly opposed to this initially — but expecting equal time of both parents is good for kids, parents, men, and feminism.
Since each parent now has equal time to work and earn, no child support also makes sense.
Co-parenting mandates can include mandated co-parenting classes, regular, scheduled meetings with your ex, as well as your significant others (or other relatives actively involved in your kids' lives, like grandparents who live nearby).
By initiating things to ask for in a divorce on the front-end, you set a precedent for collaboration and communication that can carry you forward for the rest of your kids' lives.
Right of first refusal
First right of refusal means that if one parent can't be with the kids on their assigned days, the other parent has first dibs on that time. Very often overlooked in divorce agreements. This is often overlooked in divorce agreements but can stave off many arguments.
You can create a parenting plan without an attorney by using RocketLawyer, as well as work out details now, and ongoing (because — trust me! — life changes in ways you can't expect!) as well as a family or couples therapist. Don't overlook this!
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You can establish how often you and your co-parent communicate, the amount of time each of you has to respond to a message, and modes of communicating required (text, say, opposed to phone or email — whatever you both agree on).
You will likely agree to keep each other abreast of any medical or academic challenges faced by your children, as well as behavioral or emotional issues outside of normal kid stuff. Do not overlook this in your divorce agreements.
An equal parenting schedule can work any number of ways:
- One week on, one week off with each parent
- Two weeks on, two weeks off with each parent
- Every-other-weekend, plus some weeknights with each parent
- The 3-4-4-3: three days with one parent, four days with the other parent, four days with the first parent and then three days with the other parent
- Two-days on, two days off (more appropriate for smaller children)
Summers, holidays and school breaks are also up for discussion and the co-parenting schedule, and should also be shared equally for sake of equal responsibility in parenting, as well as equal rights and enjoyment of the kids!
Guidelines for holiday and vacation schedules
This often-overlooked item on a divorce agreement is a great opportunity to lay out how you will share special occasions and holidays with your ex.
However, keep in mind that you will need to be flexible and accommodating.
Life is long and complex — and both of you will likely seek and need this to be fluid going forward.
Shared time for vacation
Shared responsibility for caring for kids on summer, school holidays, breaks, half-days and when kids are sick. See above.
This time can be seen as a blessing or a burden, but it must be taken care of, and it is both parents' responsibility to arrange care or take time off work.
We can't close the pay gap until this happens.
Instead of arguing with your ex about taking time off, find a great sitter on Care.com and agree to share costs. Create a free Care.com account to search sitter profiles.
Routine safety provisions in the other parent's home: No guns, window locks, smoke alarms, etc. Many parents overlook this in their agreements.
Very often overlooked in divorce agreements: Depending on your family's heritage and traditions, it may be important to you and your kids' dad to prioritize saving for and sharing the cost of celebrating your kids' bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, graduations, communion, baptisms, quinceanera, and prom.
It is important to create a shared co-parenting calendar, whether you use Google Calendar, or a scheduler in a co-parenting app. These calendars can be amended as both parties agree, as well as shared with nannies and babysitters, grandparents, and the kids themselves as they get smart phones.
Things to ask for in a divorce: relationship building
Whether it is working on your new co-parenting relationship, supporting your children through the trauma of divorce, or starting to date again, this is a time of relationship transitions. A few things to consider in your divorce negotiations:
- When each starts dating, who is allowed to be around the kids?
- Therapy for kids and teens
- Ongoing mediation or counseling after divorce for co-parents
When each starts dating, who is allowed to be around the kids? Is a new partner allowed to spend the night? Can I meet the girlfriend or boyfriend first?
I elaborate on they whys of this in this post on co-parenting and dating, but in summary:
Clauses restricting your kid's other parent from introducing a new boyfriend or girlfriend to the kids is only based in control and jealousy, and is not enforceable. Plus, if you find a new partner is introduced, what do you want to happen? Drag your ex to court to be spanked by a judge? What happens if you do meet the new woman and you don't like her? You don't get a say in whether she will be your children's new stepmom.
In short: Skip these clauses, and focus on healing your hurt, jealousy and totally normal sense of loss of control. Trust me: It gets better.
Therapy for kids and teens
No matter how civil your breakup, therapy is hard for the children. Write into the parenting order that both parties are responsible for paying for and transporting kids to therapy sessions. It can be easy to overlook this since it can be uncomfortable, but put it in your agreement.
If time, money, and choice of counselor for your teen or child is an issue, consider online therapy sites like BetterHelp. Prices start at $65/week for unlimited messaging and weekly live sessions. Financial assistance available. Choose from thousands of licensed and certified therapists, and conduct sessions by phone, video, chat or email. Learn more in our review of BetterHelp.
Ongoing mediation or counseling after divorce for co-parents
Peaceful co-parenting requires frequent, ongoing communication. Especially initially after a breakup or divorce when emotions are at a fever-peak, this can be incredibly hard.
Instead of duking it out via text and screaming at one another on the front lawn in front of the kids and neighbors, and in place of continuing with expensive attorneys who are incentivized to amp up conflict, consider writing into your separation agreement or parenting plan ongoing family or couples therapy.
Online therapy can be a great option in these cases, as it is very affordable, anonymous, convenient, and since you and your ex will connect with the counselor via video, phone or text, you don't even have to be in the same room!
Things to ask for in a divorce: documentation
When you were married all the important documents residence in one home. Now, where do they live?
- Who holds birth certificates, Social Security cards and passports for the children?
- Passport and written permission to travel internationally with the kids (or not)
- Fair share of child care, after-school, camp and extracurricular activities
- Care and estate planning for disabled children
Who holds birth certificates, Social Security cards and passports for the children?
If there is a flight risk or other serious issues in your custody arrangement, the primary custody parent will likely be granted holding rights for important documents. In any case, make this clear in your settlement.
Passport and written permission to travel internationally with the kids (or not)
Whether you have family in another country, envision vacationing abroad, or otherwise, every mom needs to establish this now, including if you have actual legal reason to worry your kids' dad will kidnap your kids abroad and want to make sure this is addressed at the time of travel.
Alternatively, make sure you get in writing that you have permission to travel internationally with your kids.
You may assume that you and your ex are on the same page when it comes to exposing your children to the world, or visiting relatives abroad.
However, your relationship with your ex could become contentious at any time, and that Mexico trip you planned for winter break can become rife with conflict.
Better to make this clear on the front-end.
Download forms for:
Fair share of child care, after-school, camp and extracurricular activities
Especially if your kids are tiny, it can be hard to imagine that one day they may require thousands of dollars annually in these costs, but ask any parent: They add up to a lot.
Each parent should be expected to pay their share, dependent upon income (which will likely change in which case you will revisit the equation).
Care and estate planning for disabled children
Make sure there are provisions to continue support and related care indefinitely.
Companies like Rocket Lawyer help you create a legally binding estate plan and will for an affordable fee.
More on estate planning for single parents.
Things to ask for in a divorce: money
Assets and debts are equally divided in divorce typically. You also must consider ongoing expenses for the kids. What you need to know:
- Who is responsible for the debt after divorce?
- Credit card, tax and personal loan debt
- Student loans
- Any lawsuits, including bankruptcies
- Life insurance policies in divorce settlement
- Long-term care insurance in divorce settlement
- Wedding and engagement rings in divorce
- Separation of credit and bank accounts
- College tuition for the kids
- Who claims children on taxes
- Health insurance after divorce
- Private school tuition
Who is responsible for the debt after divorce?
Like it or not, there is a good chance that any credit card, student, tax, personal, medical, auto and real estate debt acquired during the marriage is the responsibility of both spouses. It doesn't matter who racked up the credit card bills or insisted on the new Land Rover. You're both on the hook.
Credit card, tax and personal loan debt
Like it or not, legally, you are likely on the hook for any debt accrued during the marriage.
Dig up documentation of all statements, including interest rates and due dates. If you are ready to start tackling debt, start here: How single moms can pay off debt in 14 easy steps
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Student debt taken on before you married is likely going to stay with the person who signed the loan.
However, if the debt was assumed during the marriage, it is likely the responsibility of both parties, at least to some degree, and can get messy.
Come to the table with all the information you can collect, including dates the deeds were signed, terms of the loans, whether the loans were used just for school, books and fees, or also living expenses.
Jeff Landers expands on this topic at Forbes.
Any lawsuits, including bankruptcies
Sort these out now! Rocket Lawyer has bankruptcy resources to assist you. DO NOT OVERLOOK.
Life insurance policies in divorce settlement
Every mom should consider a life insurance policy, even moms with no income of their own.
Your kids should be named as beneficiaries.
This life insurance calculator from Bestow will help you understand what you need, and how much it will cost you. Bestow offers policies up to $1.5 million of coverage, starting at $10/month. Bestow guarantees no medical exam or lab tests, ever.
Long-term care insurance in divorce settlement
Especially for women aged 50 and older, you need a plan to pay for long-term care insurance.
About 70 percent of people in the U.S. will require some kind of long-term care in their lives, and 18 percent of women will require it for 5 or more years.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that it costs on average $92,376 per year for long-term care in a nursing home.
The wife gets the wedding and engagement ring in divorce
Typically, anything that was given as a gift is considered the property of the gift recipient. This includes an engagement ring or other bridal jewelry, as well as any rings, necklaces, bracelets, brooches or earrings that you received as a gift throughout the relationship. You can keep these, or sell your jewelry for cash — up to you.
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Separation of credit and bank accounts
Divorce and breakups are some of the most common times when credit fraud can occur.
Fighting exes can steal your personal information to take on loans or open credit cards in your name, fail to pay debts they agreed to, and, sadly, it is common to steal children's identities, too.
The three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, all provide credit scores and reports, but in slightly different ways. You can get your free FICO credit score and report from Experian now to see where you stand.
Then, make sure to remove your name from any accounts attached to your ex's. Open bank and credit card accounts in your own name, and make sure that you are not on the hook to make car, student loan or mortgage payments that are not yours.
Check out CIT Bank's money market accounts, which has one of the highest rates on the market at 0.50% APY, as of February 5, 2021.
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College tuition for the kids
Some states like Illinois require that divorced parents pay a share of college costs.
Establish how much each parent must contribute to a college investment fund, or pay at the time of enrollment.
One tactic that works for many families: Once kids age out of child care, reallocate those funds to a 529 college investment account.
Who claims children on taxes
Many families either take turns claiming the kids or otherwise equally split the deductions in an equitable way, for example, divvying up health insurance, child care or other kid-related deductions.
If your ex has a history of not paying his share, make sure you take the deductions.
A tax professional at TurboTax can help you minimize your taxes.
Health insurance after divorce
Decide what makes sense for covering the kids, and equitable payment for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
Typically this is divided equitably based on each spouse's income.
If one of you has a generous health benefit through your employer, then it may make sense for that parent to assume this responsibility.
Private school tuition
If your kids will continue to attend private school, or religious school, nail down during divorce who will pay for tuition, books, uniforms, school trips and other related fees.
Common questions about divorce settlements
Here is what you need to know to create a fair and successful divorce settlement agreement.
What should a divorce settlement include?
The requirements of a divorce settlement differ by state. However, here is a list of items to work through before your divorce is settled and finalized:
- Time sharing and co-parenting of any children
- Child support and division of expenses for the children
- Division of assets, including property, debt
- Division of investments, including 401ks, pensions, real estate
- Who is responsible for paying any shared mortgages and car notes
- Responsibility of outstanding taxes owed, and how taxes will be filed moving forward
How are divorce settlements calculated? How do they work?
Division of marital assets are determined by laws in your state — either 50/50, or equitably. However, you and your ex are free to negotiate a division of property and debts as you like.
Similarly for child support, each state has its own child support calculator. However, you and your spouse are free to agree on whatever terms you deem fair.
What should a woman ask for in a divorce settlement?
If you are divorcing, you are likely hearing all kinds of toxic messages about how you should manage your settlement. Statements like:
Take him for all he's worth!
Make sure you keep the house!
The kids belong with you!
Make the bastard pay!
Even if you have the best of intentions of being fair and civilized, you are likely afraid, confused and overwhelmed by this legal process, and major life change.
Here is a practical guide of items to address in your divorce — whether you are working with a family attorney, or have an amicable divorce you are filing online after agreeing to terms with your soon-to-be ex.
If I divorce my husband what am I entitled to?
Thanks to no-fault divorce laws in every state, it doesn't matter who leaves who, or what the reasons are for divorce — the norms and laws are the same. These laws vary by state, but typically in divorce wives are entitled to:
- Equitable distribution. That means that any assets acquired during the marriage are split 50/50. So, any value accumulated in your home or other real estate, the value of your 401(k) or other portfolio investments that were contributed to and grew during the marriage itself (not the engagement or time you lived together) is split in half.
- Child support and maybe alimony. If the husband is the bigger earner, and the couple has children, the wife is likely entitled to child support based on a support calculator for their state. She will also likely share the kids' out-of-pocket expenses based on what each parent earns.
Thankfully, there are many ways to divorce in an affordable, low-cost way. These include:
Use of a mediator, or a single, neutral third-party to help negotiate the divorce agreement (opposed to each spouse hiring a combative, expensive attorney).
Collaborative divorce, in which both spouses hire attorneys, and all four people sign an agreement they will not go to court.
Free divorce settlement checklist
These are the most important documents you need to get your divorce started — and filed.
This FREE divorce worksheet from RocketLawyer is a good place to start the conversation — whether you are working with attorneys or directly with your ex, and will help you avoid overlooked but important items in divorce agreements.
- A fair, equitable co-parenting plan
- Division of assets, including how you will split any retirement accounts, real estate equity, investment accounts and savings
- Division of debt accrued during the marriage: credit cards, mortgages, personal loans, student debt, car notes, business loans and debt
- Childcare, health insurance and other out-of-pocket expenses for the kids
Are you in New York City or New York state? What to know about divorcing in NY.
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