There are probably a million (or more) things you would rather be doing instead of negotiating a divorce deal with your ex. I get it. Especially when it comes to spousal support – such a hot button issue. So, I reached out to industry experts to get the best tips for how to discuss spousal support, to help you start the conversation on the most solid footing possible.
“Some states have formulas which must be used to calculate spousal support (during the divorce proceedings and/or after the divorce is final). The calculations will use respective incomes and some living expenses for each of the parties as well as some other factors. Rosemary Frank of Rosemary Frank Financial, LLC advises that in most states ‘ability’ to pay support and the ‘need’ of the supported party are very important. Other factors which may be considered, according to the state statute if applicable, are: length of the marriage; age and health of each party; other financial resources, including the division of property in the divorce; standard of living established by the parties during the marriage and whether or not one party stayed home to raise children.”
In California, some spouses do not have a formal spousal support order while their divorce is pending. Often, they come to a mutual agreement on how finances will be handled while they work out the terms of their final decree. However, if this is not possible or if either spouse wants to get a sense for what the ‘law’ says about temporary support, they can calculate support using a state calculator (called the Dissomaster) to determine an appropriate amount. For alimony post-divorce, California looks to several factors including the ones mentioned above. Ultimately, it is a negotiation but there is quite a bit of law to help guide those discussions. Setting aside an hour or two to speak with a lawyer might feel inconvenient or expensive – but ultimately it can give you a reality check – help you understand your rights and responsibilities and most importantly – determine where you might have some leverage to move negotiations closer to your wants and needs.
Remember: if you are mediating your divorce, you can set your own terms with your ex for spousal support, without defaulting to state guidelines.
Related: Spousal Support, A-Z
Susan Petang of The Quiet Zone says, “When negotiating with your ex – contentious or not – using some basic conflict negotiation strategies is helpful.” She shares the following tips with her clients:
Melissa Fecak, a family attorney, collaborative divorce lawyer and mediator with South Jersey Divorce Solutions recommends getting help – especially if things turn contentious. She also suggests ways to structure alimony payments to make payment options more attractive and/or more manageable for the person who will be making the payments:
“One of the best ways to approach the alimony conversation is with a financial neutral who can crunch the numbers with both parties. In collaborative divorce, we often have a financial neutral in the process who assists with budgeting, valuing assets and showing projections of each spouse’s needs. In my mediation practice, I will often suggest having a CPA or other professional be part of the process for the same purpose. It takes some of the emotions out of the process and changes the focus to making sure both parties will be OK after the divorce.
“Many spouses who receive alimony do not want to be dependent upon their ex. If this is articulated to the spouse who will be paying, the conversation can turn to what does the person asking for alimony need to be self-sufficient and how long will that take. Alimony can be structured so that it decreases over time, giving the person receiving it an understanding that they will need to take steps to make up the difference to meet their expenses. It also helps the payor, as they understand they will not be paying forever and that there is an incentive in place for the other spouse to be more self-supporting.
“For some spouses, it is difficult writing that check each week/month. For those spouses, it may make more sense to do an alimony buyout. This might be done via a single payment, or by transfer of certain assets. For some it is more palatable to give one large check than to have to send one on a recurring basis. However, there is a risk for the payor is that they may overpay alimony. In New Jersey, where I practice, if you are paying alimony and your ex remarries or cohabitates, alimony would be terminated or at least suspended. If you pay a lump sum of alimony and your ex-spouse remarries 6 months later, you likely will not get that money back. But, if the payor is willing to take the risk, a lump-sum payment may be a way to solve the alimony question, and to finalize the divorce without having to send a regular check for an extended period of time,” said Fecak.
If you are handling your divorce on your own or working through our step-by-step Divorce Navigator, remember that you can always access support from certified, vetted legal counsel at a flat-rate fee through the Hello Divorce “Lawyer Help” page. We’re here to help you navigate your divorce as efficiently, empowered and as stress-free as possible, and we can provide access to legal support in as little as 30-minute increments.