Expert Tips for Negotiating Spousal Support
- Understand how support is calculated
- Be open to professional guidance
- Use conflict negotiation strategies
- Explore possible paths, including a buyout
There are probably a million things you would rather be doing than negotiating spousal support with your ex. We get it. It can be such a hot-button issue.
To help you get through it, we reached out to industry experts for their best tips. Read this article for tips to help you start the conversation on solid footing.
Understand how support is calculated
Some states have formulas that must be used to calculate spousal support (during the divorce proceedings or after the divorce is final). The calculations take respective incomes and living expenses into account for each party, as well as other factors.
Rosemary Frank of Rosemary Frank Financial, LLC advises that in most states, the ability to pay support and the supported party's degree of need weigh heavily.
Depending on the state, other factors may be considered in the calculation as well. These include the length of the marriage, the age and health of each party, the standard of living established during the marriage, whether one party stayed home to raise children, and the availability of other financial resources (including the division of property in the divorce).
Temporary support may be possible
In some states, like California, 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.
In California, if either spouse wants to get a sense of what the law says about temporary support, they can calculate the appropriate amount using a state calculator, called the DissoMaster.
Be open to professional guidance
Ultimately, spousal support is a negotiation, but the law can help guide those discussions.
A legal coach can help you understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to spousal support. They can also help you understand where you have the leverage to move negotiations closer to your wants and needs. Setting aside an hour or two to speak with a legal coach may seem inconvenient or expensive, but it can give you a reality check.
Input from a financial neutral
Melissa Fecak is a family attorney, collaborative divorce lawyer, and mediator with South Jersey Divorce Solutions. She recommends getting help from a financial neutral or CPA, especially if things turn contentious. For example, a financial neutral can help crunch the numbers to make alimony options more attractive and manageable for the payor.
"It removes some of the emotion from the process and changes the focus to making sure both parties will be OK after the divorce." – Melissa
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Use conflict negotiation strategies
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:
If things get too heated, make a date to discuss the issue when tempers have cooled. "We're both getting too upset and angry to talk about this now, but it's important to me. Could we talk again in an hour?"
Don't ambush your ex
Tell them you want to discuss something important, and choose a specific meeting time when neither of you will feel rushed.
Speak only of your own feelings
A good formula to use is, "I feel X when you do Y. I'd like Z." For example: "I get angry when you say you don't want to pay support. It's hard for me to take care of the children, and they're your responsibility, too. I'd like to get $X a month so I can take care of them properly."
Use active listening
This involves really hearing what your ex is saying and repeating it back to them. The technique can reduce friction because it helps your ex feel heard and considered. "So you feel you're already paying enough and that I'm not managing my money well. Is that right?"
Focus on a solution
The past is gone, and casting blame won't help you get what you want. Think about what you're trying to achieve and how you want to feel at the end of the negotiation. "My focus is the children. I just want to make sure their needs are met. Instead of fighting about it, let's come up with a solution that works for everyone and takes care of the kids."
When someone comes up with a solution themselves, they're much more likely to stick to it. "I understand you feel like you're paying enough support, but there just isn't enough for me to pay babysitters on my salary. What are your ideas on how to make sure the kids are looked after?" Or, "I get worried when I don't have enough to pay babysitters while I work. What can we do to take care of that?"
Make sure your request is reasonable
If they're making $50,000 a year, they're not going to be able to pay you $35,000 in support. Be willing to compromise and do what is necessary to make your goal work.
Use the broken record technique
Repeat your feelings and needs without casting blame or judgment until your ex hears and acknowledges you.
Explore possible paths, including an alimony buyout
A path to self-sufficiency
Melissa Fecak points out that spouses who receive alimony don't want to depend upon their ex. When this is articulated to the payor, the conversation can then turn to what the person asking for alimony needs to become self-sufficient and how long that would take.
"Alimony can be structured so it decreases over time, giving the person receiving it an understanding that they will need to take steps to make up the difference. It also helps the payor, as they understand they will not be paying forever." – Melissa
For some spouses, it may make sense to do an alimony buyout, says Melissa. This may be done via a single payment or by transfer of certain assets. Caution is necessary, however, because an alimony buyout could lead the payor to spend more than necessary on their ex.
"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 six months later, you likely will not get that money back." – Melissa
That said, if the payor is willing to take the risk, a lump sum payment may prove to be less of an emotional and financial hassle.
Watch: Spousal Support During Divorce