Step 4: Negotiating Agreement and Finalizing Judgment
The last step of your divorce has two parts:
- Mediating, negotiating or litigating your divorce settlement; and
- Preparing & Submitting Judgment (or, as we like to call it, “Judgment Time”)
There are also a few final items to finish before you’re completely done.
Quick Tip: Start with our Divorce Worksheet to ensure you know all the issues that need to be resolved before you finalize your divorce. Consider speaking with us to flesh out your various positions or calculate support prior to negotiating with your spouse.
Quick Tip: If your spouse did not file a response and is either MIA or has refused to participate in the divorce process, you can skip to preparing your Judgment.
Your Divorce Judgment is a Big Deal
If there is one part of your divorce to focus on, this is it. No part of your divorce will matter more. Having the best of intentions without educating yourself on your rights is doing yourself a huge disservice. The terms in your divorce judgment can have a profound impact on your future and, if you are anything like us — you want to move past this point in your life and start fresh — transition to a new, healthier, mindful space.
Quick Tip: Do not rely on your spouse to dictate the terms of your divorce or tell you what is best. Further, ask for documents if you are the spouse who didn’t manage the finances. California law provides for complete transparency and if your spouse is unwilling to give you what you need to make an informed decision, they are probably hiding something.
Consult our resource library to help you strategize your position and negotiate with your spouse. Some of our favorites:
Choose Your Adventure: Mediate, Negotiate or Litigate
In order to finalize your divorce, you and your spouse will need to come to an agreement. Depending on your relationship with your spouse, you might choose to mediate, negotiate or litigate.
Mediation is a good choice if:
- You and your spouse have already tried to work out an agreement but have been unable to
- You anticipate that it will be difficult to communicate about the various issues in your divorce
- You think your divorce conversations would benefit from having a neutral third party refereeing
An experienced family law attorney can guide you through the process and even prepare your final Judgment.
The experienced mediators of Levine Family Law Group will work with you for a fixed rate to prepare your Divorce Judgment.
If issues aren’t too complicated and you and your spouse are on pretty good terms, you should be able to navigate this stage on your own. Negotiation can be by email, in person or with a trusted neutral party.
Negotiating your divorce settlement takes planning, patience and action. As difficult as negotiating with your spouse might be, litigation is costly, unpredictable, time consuming and frustrating.
If you and your spouse are having trouble coming to an agreement, think about asking the Court for a Settlement Conference. This is a great opportunity for you both to learn about how the court might rule if you did decide to litigate. This outside perspective can be super helpful in pushing both of you towards an agreement.
Some counties have a local form that you must complete to (formally) request a settlement conference. If you can’t find a local form on your county’s website, you should file an At Issue Memorandum and your Judge will schedule a court date for you to request a settlement conference.
Allow the LFLG attorney to assist you by advising on your unique situation.
Litigation refers to spending time in a courtroom arguing your respective positions and leaving it up to a judge to make decisions that will impact how assets are divided, where your children will live, how much support will be provided (and for how long) and who will pay for attorney fees or other costs related to your divorce.
We don’t have to tell you that litigation is unpredictable. No matter how well you (or your attorney) knows the law, judges are human too. They sometimes make mistakes and they often have a ton of discretion when applying the law.
When issues pertaining to your divorce are heavily contested, your spouse is taking unreasonable positions and/or is not acting in good faith, litigation may be inevitable.
If the issues involved in your divorce are complicated and/or your spouse has an experienced attorney representing them, you should strongly consider hiring an attorney to represent you. While Hello Divorce does not offer legal services, if you are in the Bay Area, we recommend you contact Levine Family Law Group for a consultation.
Even if you have already hired an attorney, we can still help you keep your costs down. Browse our resource library to learn more about divorce so that you do not have to spend time (and therefore get billed) for questions you can answer on your own.
Allow us to help with a second opinion or LFLG legal coaching to make sure your case is on the right track.
Preparing Your Judgment
The final document that needs to be completed is the Divorce Judgment. It’s a little misleading because there are actually several documents that go with it. To double check that you have completed all of the correct forms, make sure you use our checklist.
The Divorce Judgment includes the date of divorce and all enforceable orders regarding the issues related to your marriage.
DIY the Strategic Way
Use our DIY videos and instructional templates to guide you through preparation of your final documents. Choose the option below that best corresponds with what direction your divorce has taken.
When to Use: Spouse did not file a Response (FL-120) and is MIA or Does not want to participate in the divorce.
If your spouse did not file a Response to your Petition for Divorce, you can skip negotiation and proceed directly to Requesting a Default and preparing your judgment.
When to Use: Petition (FL-100) was filed but not a Response (FL-120).
If your spouse did not file a Response but you have negotiated a settlement agreement, you can file either a Stipulated Judgment or a Judgment and Marital Settlement Agreement. The two have minor differences but we find that most of our users prefer the Marital Settlement Agreement option if they have negotiated a resolution early on in the process (before a Judgment can be signed off on by a judge).
When to Use: Petition (FL-100) and a Response (FL-120) were filed.
If you and/or your spouse have filed a Petition and/or Response and you are now ready to prepare the Divorce Judgment, you can file either a Stipulated Judgment or a Judgment and Marital Settlement Agreement. The two have minor differences but we find that most of our users prefer the Marital Settlement Agreement option if they have negotiated a resolution early on in the process (before a Judgment can be signed off on by a judge).
When to Use: Both a Petition and Response were filed. Spouses were not able to come to an agreement and went to court.
If you and/or your spouse were unable to reach agreements on some or all of the issues pertaining to your divorce, you likely had to litigate the contested issues before a judge. If you would like assistance preparing your Judgment or reviewing the draft Judgment that your spouse has prepared and provided to you, we’re here to help. Request a quote.
Your Divorce Judgment Matters a Lot
It’s a big deal. This is the document that will provide your custody arrangement, whether or not you pay or receive support (and the amount / length), how property and debt will be divided or assigned, whether or not either of you are entitled to reimbursements or credit, who (if either of you) will pay attorney fees, costs and/or mediator fees… and any additional orders specific your case.
Even if you have successfully navigated the divorce process on your own up until now, now is the time to get support. It’s really a good idea to have an LFLG attorney review before you sign or prepare your Judgment.
Submitting Your Judgment
Have we mentioned that it’s a REALLY good idea to have us review your Judgment before you submit?
Who Needs a Quick Tip? You’re a pro at filing now. You probably hear “two copies (three total) and include a self-addressed stamped envelope” in your sleep. #divorcehumor
Double check all of your documents before you send them in to ensure you’ve dated all signatures, included your case number and names on the top of every form and made two copies (three total) of each document.
And then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can celebrate with you. You made it!
And Now…You Wait
It takes the Court anywhere from a couple weeks to a few months to process your Judgment. If you don’t receive a filed/endorsed (stamp in the right hand corner) Judgment in a few weeks, it’s a good idea to check in with the court clerk to make sure your documents are making their way to the right place.
If you get your Judgment returned to you (i.e. rejected), don’t be too discouraged. Clerks are the gatekeepers here and if something looks outside the norm to them or they miss a document in your stack, they might just send it back to you before it ever reaches the judge.
If your Judgment is sent back to you with a “rejection” notice, don’t panic. Review this resource and then email us at email@example.com with (if possible) a copy of the Judgment “review” or “rejection” form. We’ll let you know if it’s a quick fix and quote you a flat fee to fix it.
Congratulations, you’ve submitted your Divorce Judgment (and ALL the accompanying documents)!
Hopefully you have already received a “Notice of Entry of Judgment” confirming that your divorce is final and letting you know what the actual date of your divorce is. Sometimes the date that the Notice is stamped (top right corner) is different than the actual date of your divorce. To determine when you are officially single, look for the language: “… the following Judgment was entered on…” and the date that follows.
If you ever want to check the status of your case online (to find out if your Judgment has been approve or is just stuck moving through the system), find the contact information for your courthouse here.
A Few Final Notes…
Your divorce may be complete but there’s still a few steps you should take to ensure that you and your family are financially protected.
- If you would like to legally change your last name to your maiden name, look no further! This resource gives you all the details for getting that accomplished.
- Make sure that the Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is entered and implemented (if there is a provision in your Judgment that provides retirement account(s) will be divided by QDRO). Look to our resources, What is a QDRO and Understanding QDROs for more.
- Change your beneficiaries (life, health, pay on death accounts, etc.) assuming it doesn’t conflict with your Divorce Judgment.
- Change title and mortgage information (may need to refinance) to your residence to reflect the name of the spouse who the asset was assigned to. If you are “deferring sale” (holding off on selling or transferring the home until a date certain), you should consider severing joint tenancy or changing title to reflect tenants-in-common so that you each hold a 50% interest in the home.
- Update your will or other estate planning documents including power of attorney and/or advanced health care directive.
- Notify your auto insurer of any changes in automobile drivers, ownership and addresses.
- Remove your name from any debts or loans that are no longer your responsibility (to the extent possible).
- If you change jobs, notify your new employer of any court ordered support you currently pay through automatic withholding (wage garnishment).
- Celebrate how far you have come since splitting up!
Questions? Feeling overwhelmed?
We get it. At any point, schedule an affordable and convenient meeting with one of the excellent legal LFLG coaches.