What every mom should ask for in divorce negotiations

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:

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).

More about how property is divided in a divorce

How to deal if you are woman who pays alimony or child support

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.

What should a woman ask for in a divorce settlement?

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.

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 (I bet you didn't know that you can get $1 million of insurance for $8/month— or $3/month for $500,000! Guaranteed no medical exam or lab tests).

Ongoing mediation or counseling after divorce

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!

Check out online therapy 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.

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.

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.

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. 

Read: Best free online checking accounts

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.

Read More: What single moms and dads need to know about 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.

Equal parenting time

I elaborate in detail here why this is important.

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.

Create a parenting plan without an attorney with RocketLawyer.

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.

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.

Kids have their own beds

Your ex may expect the kids to share a bed, share a bed with him, sleep on a couch or the floor. Get it in writing now.

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.

Coming-of-age celebrations

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.


Routine safety provisions in the other parent's home: No guns, window locks, smoke alarms, etc.

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.

The 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.

Co-parenting mandates

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 thing 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.

29 tips for better co-parenting—including with a difficult ex

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:

Bank accounts.

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
  • Jewelry
  • Art
  • 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

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.

How to get started investing for women

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.

How single moms can pay off debt in 14 easy steps

Student loans

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.

Car notes

Income information: Pay stubs, tax returns

Tax filings

  • 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 checking into finding affordable life insurance coverage through Haven Life.

How single moms can find affordable health insurance.

Any lawsuits, including bankruptcies

Will and estate document

Even more important now than ever, as a single parent, if you do not have a will, you need one.

LegalZoom.com can also help you with the process!

Related: Rocket Lawyer review

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.


  1. Adasha Knight on May 23, 2019 at 10:47 am

    Child support is the way to help pay living expenses. Any parent who is really a parent should want to be a part of anything else above and beyond that and help pay for it. Do they want their child seeing them not help out or the child suffer and not get to do extra stuff because they won’t help? I, MYSELF, would not want to be seen as “that parent” by my kids.
    The more the decree is detailed and spelled out, the less there is to fight about. You MUST think of everything that may come up for all years to come. Consider adding when in the other parents care, they are to supply all needs for the child, give all prescribed meds whether they agree with it or not, taken to all extra-curricular activities while they have them, and so many more. THINK HARD about anything that may come up and talk to others who have gone through issues!!!! Great article!!

  2. Kelsey on April 13, 2019 at 10:41 am

    I have custody of my child does “The right of first right to refusal” apply only to the receiving parent? For example, If the parent who is scheduled to be responsible for the child is not able to be with and care for the child at the time during scheduled child visitation.

    I’m looking out for the best interest for my child and would rather not have my child being pawned off to other family/friends members while he’s away working traveling out of state when he is supposed to being spending time with our child. We clearly live on opposite ends, him in the West Coast and I and the East Coast.

    How can this matter be stipulated into the divorce paperwork?

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  5. Maggie on July 27, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    How do you insist on no guns in the house? This has been an issue our entire marriage. My husband refuses to get rid of them or keep them elsewhere, not even his parents house because it would be too burdensome for them (ha!) or a gun range because it would be too expensive.. He’s done nothing but purchase more gunsand not tell me about it. Marriage counseling has helped me deal with his BS bit not improved our relationship. Ideas?

  6. Ashley Bell on March 2, 2018 at 2:49 am

    My husband and I were just granted full custody of his 11, 9 and 4 year old Jan 29th, 2018.
    The reason was their mom denied him his visitation numerous times and he documented it thru police reports. Emails and texts from her and her fiance proved she was trying to alienate their dad.

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  8. Joan on November 11, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Most of the list that wbat child support is for. Child support, because the the writer obviously has never heard of it, is money for the children. Asking for even more money for child activities, insurance, college tuition etc is just hateful. The money my ex pays for our kids go right to the kids to cover all those things. He doesn’t doesn’t pay anything else.

    • Elvira on January 18, 2018 at 11:28 am

      Child support is for food and utilities used when the children are at the other parent’s house. It is not for extra activities. Also, those with 50/50 custody do not receive child support. So yes, extra money for these k8nd of activities should be asked for because they are not covered.

      • Tina on February 12, 2018 at 11:43 pm

        Not true. We have 50/50 custody (physical and legal) and I pay child support to my ex.

    • TRACY ADAME on August 28, 2018 at 1:49 am

      Child Support is for the normal day to day expenses of raising the child. Food, Shelter, Transportation, Clothing, etc. In TX, the max child support obligation is 40% of Net Income + max 9% for Medical Premiums. (and that’s assuming 5 kids+ since it is tiered) I *wish* I could care for my kids on 40% of my income, but I am like most parents, who directly uses at least 90% literally on the kids day to day expenses. Child Support is not tied to coparenting in all states, so if I have them for 75% of the time, that also means I am providing 75% of their grocery bills and utilities, which comes from child support but it certainly not equitable if he’s only paying 40% of his income. So no, the items on the list are not intended to be covered by Child Support rather it is the *minimum*. To add, age 18 termination is a crock too since most kids do not leave home just because they graduate or turn 18, so I would add to the list that provisions for that should be negotiated.

  9. Joy on July 4, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Recommending shared parenting with a personality disordered parent is wrong. Unfortunately, sometimes the non-disordered parent is so smeared by the disordered one that the legal and even mental health system cannot tell the difference. That is bad for kids, period.

  10. Tricia on January 13, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Can I ask about number 10? My kids have their own beds at my house (I’ve got primary custody), however they do not at their father’s. They sleep on the floor or the couch…
    Now, I’m not ok with this sleeping arrangement, but how do they mandate that the kids have their own beds?

    • Emma on January 17, 2017 at 10:14 am

      You could take the issue to family court.

  11. Vicki on December 29, 2016 at 11:42 pm

    This is a great list! It’s so important to have a good lawyer to talk through these with. In TX, if I had insisted on sharing college costs, I would have had to give up part of the community property settlement. In the end, they got financial aid of grants and scholarships since they went to in-state public universities and I had claimed them on my taxes, not their dad.

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