In New Jersey, the vast majority of divorces we handle for men and fathers are settled long before a trial date is even scheduled. For the most part, family court judges favor couples who settle issues over custody, child and spousal support, and an equitable division of property or other marital assets.
As family law attorneys whose work focuses on men in New Jersey, we’re often asked about the process of negotiating a settlement. We’re happy to provide advice because we know that very few people relish the prospect of ending up in a court room.
Our overall view is that men and their soon-to-be ex-spouse need to start with an open mind. It’s impossible to conclude a negotiation successfully if you think in terms of all or nothing. And, frankly, we’ve learned over the years that there’s no such thing as a Win-Win settlement: One person will gain much of what they want but give up other things as a result.
Without being flexible, you’re unlikely to work out as amicable a settlement agreement as possible under the circumstances.
8 Things to Know
So here are eight things men and fathers who are divorcing in New Jersey need to keep in mind as we negotiate your divorce settlement.
1 – Don’t start with a hard-and-fast position. This can stall out the entire process and a New Jersey judge will decide who gets what. Rather, focus on your interests that you want to satisfy. For example, I have had clients tell me they won’t pay more than $1,000 in monthly spousal support. But your ex may insist she won’t take less than $2,000. Immediately, there is a stalemate with both sides unwilling to budge an inch. You could be turning your divorce into a long, drawn out and costly disappointment.
2 – Don’t burn bridges. Especially if you have children, you’ll be seeing your spouse for years to come, probably on a weekly basis. If you co-parent, you want to do so on an amicable basis. If there are no minor children to contend with, you may continue to own an asset such as the marital home or investment property with your ex. Unless your wife was abusive or an emotional bully, there is no reason to destroy the relationship any further than for whatever reason you’re getting divorced.
3 – Step outside of yourself. At a time like this, it isn’t always easy to remember that your ex has feelings and emotions about the divorce. While they may be different than your own, try to understand what she is saying. Often, we have seen that parties are willing to give up a potential financial gain in order to have their emotional needs acknowledged and addressed. Adamant positions are likely to soften and you are one big step closer to achieving a negotiated settlement.
4 – Acknowledge your own feelings and control them. When you react emotionally, your spouse and her family law attorney will figure out what your trigger points are and may use this information against you. Losing control of your emotions will usually lead to an increase in the cost of your divorce to say nothing of the time you’ll need to focus on it rather than moving forward with your life.
5 – Give us all of the facts. As family law lawyers, we won’t be able to negotiate a fair settlement if we don’t have all of the facts. So, it’s a terrible idea to try hiding income or assets. You’ll be found out and judges do not have patience with people who have not been honest and open. Make sure that your financial disclosure to us is complete. You are much more likely to end up with an equitable division of assets if both parties disclose their financial position.
6 – Develop trust through transparency. Gather all relevant documents such as tax returns, credit card statements, outstanding tax bills and valuations of property and make them available as soon as possible. Sometimes, trust can be gained merely by asking your estranged wife what documents she wants to see. Going the extra mile will establish at least a modicum of trust between the two of you and will make the job of negotiating a settlement easier.
7 – Don’t shut down communications. This requires saying what you truly mean but in a respectful way. Yes, there are some divorces where communication has become difficult if not impossible owing to the circumstances that led to the breakdown of the marriage. If you find it difficult to communicate with her, let us do your talking. We’re trained in communicating with the other side and we don’t take what they say in response personally.
8 – Focus on the problem, not the person. I’ve yet to help a man through a divorce where there wasn’t at least some level of emotion involved, especially if there are children. Even if you and your ex want the divorce, there can be feelings of sadness, regret and failure. To reach the best possible outcome, stay focused on the issues rather than on your spouse and what she may or may not have done. Separate sticking points or issues from the person.
If you begin feeling lost, confused or hopeless during your divorce, feel free to join our divorce and custody support group for men. You don’t have to be a client to participate.
If you or a man you know is contemplating divorce and wants to discuss negotiating a settlement, please call me or any of the attorneys at the family law firm for men in New Jersey. Reach us at either 973.562.0100 in Nutley or, in Montclair, at 862.245.4620.