The main thing you need to be aware of (at least in Washington State): you don’t need to know every detail about what you will ask for at the time the divorce is filed.
The Petition, or Response to Petition, can be framed in very general terms. All you need to know are the broad categories. For instance, the Petition should state whether or not you are requesting:
- property to be divided
- a parenting plan
- child support
- spousal maintenance (alimony)
- restraining orders
- a name change
As the divorce process progresses, you and your attorney will work together to determine what specific settlement terms are appropriate to request in negotiations. And of course as the negotiations progress, the terms will likely change.
It is important to be aware that when dividing property, there may be types of assets that some people forget about or think are not subject to division, such as business interests or retirement plans.
Just because a retirement plan is in one spouse’s name does not mean that it is not community property and subject to division. We often use a special order called a QDRO to divide retirement plans and award a portion to the other spouse.
Also be wary of simplistic solutions like assuming everything will be divided 50/50. There are various reasons why property often is not divided 50/50, including the future earning potential of each spouse and separate property owned by each spouse.
It is important to take stock of your needs and goals and how structuring a settlement can support those needs and goals.
For instance, you may determine that you should receive $250,000 of total assets from the marital community, but which assets should you take to achieve the $250,000?
Taking on the house (with $200,000 equity) may not make sense if you don’t have the cash flow to support continuing to live there.
If you are concerned about your long-term future, you may want to push for more of your share to be in retirement assets. On the other hand, if you are more concerned about getting back on your feet in the short term, you may want to push for more liquid assets.
It can also be helpful to take stock of your spouse’s needs and goals.
The more you can make proposals that also address your spouse’s biggest concerns, the more likely you are to actually come to agreement.
If you ignore what they care about, the harder it is going to be to come to agreement on the things that are important to you. In fact, it is best if you can avoid getting into a pattern of request and response but rather engage in a discussion where both sides problem solve together.
Finally, when making requests, it is important to neither over reach or under reach.
Asking for the moon usually accomplishes little except causing you not to be taken seriously, and even ticking off the other side and making them less willing to deal with you. The end result of such tactics is to increase the cost of getting to resolution.
On the other hand, intentionally asking for too little in order to get the divorce over quickly is trading off long term needs for short term satisfaction. It might feel good now, but in a few years you may have major regrets when your finances, or your parenting time, fall short.
Work with your attorney to assess what is a realistic range for settlement and try to structure something within that range that works for both parties.