Before you start
Working together, when possible, may give you more control
In many cases, couples prefer to make these decisions together by reaching an agreement rather than having a judge decide. A judge won’t know the details of your life and circumstances as well as you do, and working with your spouse means you have more control of the outcome.
People reach agreements in different ways
Working things out does not mean that you have to sit down together. If you get along this may be possible. Other times, it is easier to work things out over the phone, text, or email. This is one way a couple may reach an agreement.
You do not have to use this process.
Think of goals and interests and what you already agree on
List some of your goals or interests for the future
For some decisions in your divorce, it makes sense to think at first in terms of goals, interests, and concerns. Thinking in terms of goals and interests can help start negotiations in a positive manner.
You may find that you and your spouse share similar goals or interests so you can work together to meet the goals. Once you and your spouse are clear on these, you can start to talk more about specifics about how to meet those goals.
example: child custody Goals and interests
Your children don't have to switch schools. Or, maybe that a parent is home with the children after school while they are young.
Example: Support goal or interest
If you are divorcing while you're going back to school, your goal may be to be able to finish school. Finishing school will help your career and make you better able to support yourself and children.
Figure out what you already agree on
Think about what you already agree on. Starting from points of agreement can help you move on to tackle what you don't agree about. This helps you identify points of disagreement.
Example: Property and Debts
Compare your Schedule of Assets and Debts (form FL-142).
Do you agree on what is community and what is separate property?
Is there a big difference in how you each value your community property?
If you agree about separate property (or you don’t have any), you can then start to work on dividing the community property
Propose an agreement and negotiate
You can propose an agreement about all the issues in your divorce. Or, it can help to go through issues in steps.
List all your community property and debts
Propose who will get or be responsible for each item
You can talk through or send your list back and forth to come up with an agreement.
Typically, you each end up with a roughly equal share. If you do not end up with a roughly equal share, you can make the values equal. This is known as an equalizing payment.
- Your spouse keeps the car, which is worth $8,000
- You keep all your furniture, which is worth $5,000
Since your spouse is ending up with higher value property, they can pay you $1,500 to make your shares equal (you each get $6,500). This is an equalizing payment.
Spousal support agreement
First, decide if either of you will pay or receive spousal support. If so, you'll need to discuss:
- The amount of support
- How long the support will last
- How payments will be made
You can negotiate about amount and length. For example,
The paying spouse could start paying more and then pay less over time
The paying spouse could pay a high amount each month, but for a shorter amount of time
Child custody and parenting time agreement
You’ll need to discuss and agree on:
Who will have legal custody or if you will share it (called “joint”)
Legal custody deals with who makes important decisions in your children’s life, like education, health care, and more.
Who will have physical custody or if you will share it
Physical custody is who your children live with most of the time. If you share your children close to equal time, it can also be joint.
How you will share parenting time
Parenting time, also called visitation, is the plan for how you will each share time with your children, including school days, weekends, holidays, vacations, and special occasions.
Child support agreement
You'll need to discuss and agree on:
The court's amount of “guideline” support
A judge will only approve an agreement if they know how much child support would be if you went to court. This is called “guideline” child support. You can agree to a different amount but still need to tell the court the “guideline” number.
Who will pay for health insurance
In addition to child support, you must also agree which parent will be responsible for health insurance for your children. Health insurance is required if it is available at a reasonable cost.
Who will pay for other expenses
In addition to child support, parents can also agree how they will pay for other things like child care, uncovered medical expenses, and travel expenses for visitation.
Get help if you need it
Sometimes just having someone who is not involved in your case explain things can help you reach an agreement.
See what services your Self-Help Center offers or suggests
In some Self-Help Centers, the staff can meet with you and your spouse. They can’t give you legal advice, but they can offer information about the law and tools that others have used to reach an agreement. If they don't offer this type of help, they may know of local organizations that do.
Find out what services local lawyers offer
While it can be very expensive to hire a lawyer to handle your whole case, many lawyers charge less to work with you on specific parts of your case. Ask if they offer mediation or will do a consultation.
Find out about mediation programs in your community
Many counties have mediation programs that help people work out agreements.
If you reach an agreement, it will need to be written down, signed by you both along with a judge.
If you can't reach an agreement, you can ask a judge to decide at a hearing or a trial.
Go back to an overview
Return to an overview of the steps in the decision-making process
Write out your agreement
If you agree, learn how to write up your agreement and prepare it for a judge to sign
Prepare for a trial or hearing
If you can't agree and decide to go to trial, learn what to expect at a trial or hearing and how you can prepare
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