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.
But first, some common divorce questions:
What should a woman ask for in a divorce settlement?
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. In some cases, a judge may award the lesser-earner alimony, especially if you are a stay-at-home mom who has been out of the workforce many years. You can also negotiate health insurance and other benefits (see details below).
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).
DIY divorce, in which you both agree together on the terms of the divorce, then file in your local court. RocketLawyer provides documents you need to file in your state for $39.99/month for unlimited documents, as well as $59.99 per 30-minute attorney consultation. Typical forms you will need include a separation agreement, divorce worksheet, and, finally, a divorce settlement agreement.
CompleteCase offers a similar service for a flat $299 fee, which includes unlimited document creation, online storage, and instructions for filing in your state.
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.
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.
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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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Right of first refusal
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).
Many women who were stay-at-home moms fail to demand payment full-time child care because they have a hard time imagining that they will need it — or simply can't let go of their dream of staying home.
Check out Care.com for an excellent selection of pre-screened, affordable sitters and nannies in your area.
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.
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.
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.
Who is entitled to 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 $3/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.
Worthy is the leading online site to sell all your jewelry via a secure online auction. 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 credit score from Credit Sesame 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.
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.
Private school tuition
Collect the 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.
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.
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.
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 $3/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.
Any lawsuits, including bankruptcies
Sort these out now! Rocket Lawyer has bankruptcy resources to assist you.
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 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.