Divorce and custody negotiations are stressful. How do you know what things to ask for in divorce?
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.
Keep in mind two things:
- An amicable divorce is far, far less expensive, less draining, and sets the stage for positive co-parenting long-term. Consider filing your divorce online with an agreement from a company like CompleteCase, which costs just $299 for all your divorce papers, instructions for filing and a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Take care of your mental health during this stressful time. BetterHelp is an A+ Better Business Bureau rated online therapy site that connects you with a certified, credentialed therapist for unlimited chat, phone or video counseling, starting at $35/week. 10% discount for new members. Financial aid available. Therapy for individuals, teens, couples. Check out BetterHelp now >>
But first, some common divorce questions:
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).
Is your ex a narcissist?
Rebecca Zung is a Los Angeles divorce attorney whose 4-hour course, How to Negotiate with a Narcissist, will teach you:
- What manipulation tactics to expect from a narcissist in a divorce and how to shut them down
- How to develop a winning, foolproof strategy to drive the outcome you want
- How to create strong leverage which will motivate and incentivize the narcissist to want to resolve your issues
- How to anticipate what the narcissist will do and be two steps ahead of them at all times
- How to focus on you, building your strong case, your confidence level, and how to develop a victorious mindset
- Membership in NarcSlayers© Facebook group — your built-in support group
- Communication Section with actual scripts you can use to respond to emails and texts, and what to say to the narcissist to disarm them,
- 50 Key Phrases to Disarm the Narcissist
- Questions for Vetting a Lawyer When Dealing with a Narcissist
- Outline and workbook to help you stay on track and follow throughout the course so you don’t miss any steps.
Why not to fight your ex for child support, alimony or other money
Money is often cited as the No. 1 thing divorcing couples fight over. Financial disagreements clog the courts and wrack up attorney bills — not to mention burn untold units of stress and misery for each party, their children and anyone within earshot.
This money-related financial tension carries over after breakups and divorce. Often, women tell me that they can't move forward with their lives because they are stuck financially because of money their ex owes. They tell me: I can't afford to go back to school / advance my career by traveling or taking additional responsibilities because there is no money for child care — because he won't pay.
He may very well owe you that money. Morally and legally, you may be entitled to it.
But sometimes you can be so right, you are wrong. After all, the average sum of child supported ordered monthly is less than $300, and total child support owed is actually paid just 40 percent of the time. What if you let that all go and focused on earning big, big money. I want every woman to understand what it feels like to be financially independent. Only then do you truly step into your power, and live your life in the biggest, most authentic way possible.
1. It costs you more in legal fees than you stand to receive
Life is not fair. There are laws designed to protect women and children in divorce, and there is also the universal law of what is just. But there is also the legal system, and it is messed up, unfair and is designed to support mainly the rich. Unless you're Elin Nordegren and Tiger Woods, there is often a very low threshold to cross before it stops making sense to spend money on lawyers to get what you are owed. Do the math. Then take a deep breath. Let the breath go. And let that money go, too.
2. You're fighting for money he doesn't have
You can't get blood from a stone, as the old adage goes. Sure, he may owe you tens of thousands of dollars in back child support. You could have the courts take his car and send him to jail. But if you honestly know that he doesn't have that cash, do you really want to do that? Yes? What do you get in return?
3. You're building a lifestyle around someone else's money — that you may never get
When you create a budget based on money you get from someone else, you are dependent on them. This is never a good idea. For financial reasons, that money may never materialize — or suddenly disappear. Men's child support and alimony doesn't show up if he loses his job, becomes disabled and cannot work, dies, refuses to pay for whatever reason, or has another child and is allowed by the courts to pay less. Plus, don't you just want to stop fighting and earn your own money? Doesn't that sound really, really delicious — to never be dependent on him or another man again?
4. You're fighting for money in divorce out of spite
Anger and spite are normal. God knows I've spent a lot of time being pissed at my ex! But exuding all that negative energy to take revenge is not a good reason to fight for money — even if you're entitled to it. Good reasons include providing a better life for yourself and your kids and/or because the money is genuinely yours.
5. He needs the money more than you do
Maybe each of your financial situations have changed. Maybe you have indeed moved on and are now killing it financially. Maybe he lost his job and is struggling. Maybe you're both stable, but you see that the money in question could help him out a whole lot more than it could help you. And now that you've moved forward, and you are no longer spiteful and angry, you have the energy to do the right thing.
6. Fighting for money is exhausting and bad for the kids
Divorce is one of the most stressful, draining crises a person can go through. In many cases — especially if there are children and significant assets involved — it is worth taking your time with a good lawyer to negotiate a fair settlement. But until the mailman delivers the manilla envelope containing your signed divorce decree, you will likely feel that your whole world is in limbo. Letting some stuff go moves everyone forward — including the kids.
After all, the more conflict between you and your ex, for whatever reason, means the children suffer at the hands of it. He might legally owe you, but sometimes you can be so right you're wrong.
Co-parenting is your priority now, and that is hard to do peacefully if you are fighting over money. Read my tips on how to co-parent with your ex, peacefully, as well as all the science-based research on why equally shared parenting is best.
One of the first co-parenting apps, and widely used app, OurFamilyWizard, which features chat, information storage (like pediatrician and teacher contact info, prescriptions, etc.), and financial record-keeping. 30-day free trial, discounts for military families, and a program to provide OurFamilyWizard free to low-income families. Each parent can add unlimited numbers of other people for free, including children, grandparents, step and bonus parents, as well as attorneys.
7. You hold yourself back when you fight your ex for money
Deepak Chopra tells us that human beings have infinite energy, and I accept that to be true. But we are also physical beings living in the real world, and a girl only has so much energy to go around.
When you are dependent on his money, you are dependent on HIM. Dependence is never healthy. It holds you back, keeps you embroiled in a romantic relationship that is over, with someone who you likely don't care for much.
You have a choice: Spend your time, energy and power to fight with him, or invest that time and energy and power in yourself to earn far more money than he owes you from his 401(k). After all, when it comes to earning and building wealth, the sky is the limit!
My mantra: The best revenge is living well.
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
I elaborate in detail here why equally shared parenting time in divorce is so important for children and women.
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.
This 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
This means that if one parent can't be with the kids on their assigned days, the other parent has first dibs on that time.
How to create a co-parenting plan
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.
Our Family Wizard coparenting app review
One of the first co-parenting apps, and widely used app, OurFamilyWizard's features include messaging, information storage, and financial record-keeping, and a unique ToneMeter feature to help keep communication drama-free.
Military discounts, fee waiver program, and a free, 30-day trial make Our Family Wizard accessible to most families. $99/year per parent. B+ Better Business Bureau rating. Check out Our Family Wizard now >>
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.
This 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 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.
Routine safety provisions in the other parent's home: No guns, window locks, smoke alarms, etc.
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 the 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 you 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.
If time, money, and choice of counselor for your teen or child is an issue , consider online therapy sites like BetterHelp. With unlimited plans starting at $40/week and a 7-day free trial, counseling apps and sites allow you to choose from thousands of licensed and certified therapists, and conduct sessions by phone, video, chat or email.
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 and marital property
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
- Who is entitled to the house in a divorce?
- Life insurance policies in divorce settlement
- Long-term care insurance in divorce settlement
- Wedding and engagement ring 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
Check on your options for a 0% credit card transfer now >>
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 information 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.
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. 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.
- 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 >>
Life insurance policies in divorce settlement
Every mom needs 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 million of insurance, and plans starting at $8/month. Bestow guarantees no medical exam or lab tests, ever.
Get a Bestow life insurance quote now >>
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.
If you have gold or platinum wedding bands, or other jewelry, CashforGoldUSA is an A+ Better Business Bureau rated gold, diamond and precious metals buyer that pays within 24 hours, and pays a 10% bonus if you send in your item within 7 days. Get a free estimate from CashforGoldUSA now >>
Worthy is the leading online site to diamond engagement rings via a secure online auction, and insures up to $100,000. Learn more about Worthy and get a free estimate for your jewelry now, in minutes >>
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 1.8% APR, as of March, 2020.
Looking for a credit card? Compare credit cards at CreditLand.com.
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.
Collect the divorce documents
To best negotiate and prepare for a divorce or breakup, get all of these documents in order:
You will need all of these documents to be able to appropriately settle your divorce.
It's a lot, but the sooner you collect them all in one place, the easier this process:
These include checking, savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts.
List of all assets of any value
If there is any question, get them appraised. These can include:
- Real estate
- Cars and other vehicles of significant value. Check the value at KellyBlueBook.com
- Time share
- Any personal items of significant resale value, such as clothes, handbags, sports equipment, furniture, furs, electronics
Names and birth date of minor children you have together
Retirement accounts that you need to consider include IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, SEP IRAs, 403(b)s, 457's Thrift Savings Plans, TIAA-CREF, pensions and Social Security benefits.
This will all need to be discussed and likely divided, in your split.
Keep in mind that investments are likely to be lower in an economic downturn. Learn how to use a recession for your financial advantage.
Income information: Pay stubs, tax returns
- Copies of state and federal tax returns for the previous three (3) years and all corresponding W-2 or 1099 statements.
- Copies of corporate tax returns for the previous three (3) years if one or both spouses have a business.
- Related post: What single moms and dads need to know about taxes
Life and disability policies
Every parent of a minor-aged child needs life insurance, no matter how much money you earn, or whether you are dependent on child support, public benefits or others' generosity. Fortunately, there are affordable, and easy ways to find affordable life insurance for almost every budget.
I recommend getting a quote from this life insurance calculator from Bestow, which will help you understand what you need, and how much it will cost you. Bestow offers policies up to $1 million of insurance, and plans starting at $8/month. Bestow guarantees no medical exam or lab tests, ever.
You need disability insurance more than life insurance. Those who do not have disability insurance through a job, including the self-employed, can find individual coverage through reputable companies for an affordable price. Breeze disability insurance plans start at $9/month for people aged 18 to 60 years old, with monthly benefits ranging from $500 to $20,000. Breeze promises no medical exam. Get a free quote in minutes from Breeze >>
Learn more about how to find disability insurance if you are self-employed.
Will and estate document
LegalZoom.com can also help you with the process.
Related: Rocket Lawyer review
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.
- 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.
Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker,” her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.