While property settlements can be quite unpleasant, they really don’t have to be with good preparation.
Divorce is always an uncomfortable experience, and nasty property arguments make it even worse. Many couples have joint finances and acquire joint assets over the course of their relationship: vehicles, real estate, furniture, electronics, etc. When it comes time to split it all, there are some guidelines you should follow to make the process as painless as possible.
Keep your emotions in check
Don’t make rash decisions when it comes to settling your property. Correcting mistakes that result from mismanaged or undisclosed assets is extremely time-consuming and expensive, so commit to getting it right the first time.
Keep your cool, ask both your attorneys any questions you have, and insist on having every aspect of the property settlement process explained to you in a way you understand.
Remember to not entertain any outbursts on your ex-partner’s part, either. Don’t react emotionally to any provocations. Any kind of irrational behavior will just drag out the process and potentially create legal bottlenecks for you.
Staying calm will also help your children accept the divorce more easily, if you have them. Interparental conflict can be very traumatizing for kids, and it’s essential to model good conflict resolution at such a critical time.
Gather your important documents
Take extra care to prepare everything you need for getting a divorce. Your attorney will have specific advice for you, according to your jurisdiction, but in general you should gather and organize the following:
- Tax returns
- Your last several payslips (usually around 5)
- Bank statements
- Mortgage statements
- Vehicle registration
- Credit card documentation
- Any documents regarding ownership of assets
- Any documents regarding liabilities
Having this documentation at the ready will make it much easier to assert your claims. When your lawyer has clear insight into your individual fiscal and property situation, building and defending your case is much more efficient.
Get legal advice early on
Property settlement is arguably one of the most stressful aspects of divorce proceedings. Take your time to find a reliable family lawyer with a track record of success and verifiable expertise. You need a trustworthy legal advisor who communicates in a way that suits you and who will consider your best interest long-term.
A quality lawyer is especially important when your settlement is under tight deadlines or when information is murky. They’ll help you sort essential from irrelevant and make sure everything is accurately presented.
Most importantly, unlike a traditional property lawyer, they’ll be able to integrate your property settlement case into the wider picture of the divorce and make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.
Document your relationship
You want to have all significant facts well-documented and accessible to your lawyer. They will particularly benefit from a comprehensive timeline of events. This gives them a clear picture of when, how, and why the marriage deteriorated, which is important for presenting you and your claims in the best possible light.
Note down all significant dates, events, and important facts. This will be a fairly heterogeneous compilation and should include the following:
- Approximate time of starting your relationship
- Date of moving in together
- Date of marriage
- Birthdates of your children, if you have any
- Milestones as a couple
- Significant conflicts
- Property purchases
- Financial and non-financial contributions to the household
- Domestic labor (e.g. homemaking, stay-at-home parenting)
- Approximate time of the relationship deteriorating
- Date of confirmed separation
- Date when a party requested divorce
Keep your finances secure
If you and your ex-partner have had any joint accounts, separate them as soon as it becomes apparent that the relationship is no longer viable.
Your funds need to be accessible to you, but they also must be secure. When distributing assets in divorce proceedings, separate accounts make it much easier to achieve a clean break.
Towards this goal, plan long-term. Consider where you’ll live after the divorce, how you might finance housing, and other life expenses that will suddenly be 100% on you.
Call your bank and check what exactly your ex-partner has access to. Examples include accounts that require joint signatures for withdrawal, online access to shared funds, and any credit cards for which they are an additional cardholder.
Remember: it’s not always 50/50
Despite popular opinion, there are actually no laws mandating that property be split equally between divorcing partners. In fact, more often than not, one party will receive notably more property than the other. Usually the party that gets less property gives it up in exchange for something else.
Do a cost-benefit analysis of your situation with your lawyer. Have a clear idea on your ultimate goals and how much you’re willing to compromise on. Remember that each side’s debts and other obligations are taken into account as well.
These analyses also include factors like who is the primary caregiver, whether one party is a stay-at-home parent, a full-time homemaker, etc. on that note, don’t be tempted to use your parenting duties as a bargaining chip.
That sort of tactic will cast you in the worst light with the judge, because it impacts your children’s wellbeing and risks long-term emotional and psychological damage. Your lawyer will also not endorse such behavior. Children or other dependents should never be included in the settlement process or threatened in any way.
Be ready to negotiate
As much as possible, try to get an amicable parting. Do your best to negotiate the property settlement to a satisfactory conclusion before the situation escalates into arguments. Rather than going straight to a courtroom setting, try to have a few civil meetings and open discussions.
Tensions tend to run high in a courtroom, especially in the presence of judges and other supportive or unsupportive third parties (like family members from either side). Rely on the guidance of your lawyer to navigate the negotiations logically and with the least liability.
In conclusion, while property settlements can be quite unpleasant, they really don’t have to be with good preparation. Split your finances and have all your documentation organized when it becomes clear that the relationship is failing.
Document all of the important events and find a good lawyer as soon as you can. You might have to negotiate and compromise some aspects of your settlement, but as long as you keep a level head and cooperate with your lawyer, you should have an efficient and fair break on both sides.