Most of my clients are committed to maintaining amicable and respectful separations, particularly those whose relationship will continue as co-parents.
As part of that commitment, they want to try and resolve their financial separation, or property settlements, through direct negotiations with their spouse or partner. They are simply unsure how to do that, or even if it’s possible.
This pathway is commonly referred to as ‘Kitchen table negotiations’. It really just means you and your spouse discuss and agree on the terms of your separation using direct negotiation.
Who is it for?
This process of direct negotiation works well for separating couples who:
- Have an equal relationship (i.e. there is no power imbalance in your relationship);
- Can communicate effectively (even if it’s a little tense from time to time);
- Have a high degree of emotional stability.
This approach is the least formal, and many times can also be the most cost-effective option.
While some people decide to negotiate their separation by email, I encourage my clients, if they can, to try and arrange to meet in person in a public place.
Meeting in public provides the ability to speak on neutral ground, and ensure you won’t be distracted by all the “home” jobs. In addition, if you need to end your meeting early because the conversation becomes difficult, it is easier to do so from a public venue.
Through this process, you and your spouse can agree to meet as many times as needed over the coming months, to work on the issues that need to be discussed between you.
How to make kitchen table negotiations successful.
To make this process work effectively, it’s a good idea if:
- you and your spouse have a basic understanding of the legal process and issues relating to your circumstances; and
- you and your spouse have basic knowledge of the legal effects of any agreements you are considering; and
- you and your spouse have access to your own lawyer for advice and counselling outside of each meeting you have together.
Understanding your combined and individual financial circumstances is important in this process to ensure you are making fully informed decisions about your financial future.
If you weren’t the “financial controller” in your relationship, you will want your spouse to spend some time helping you understand your family’s financial circumstances. Alternatively, they can provide you with the relevant information and time so you can get the appropriate financial advice and understand the situation properly.
Relevant financial information.
Through the process of making financial disclosure, the type of information you will each need to provide the other includes:
- Bank statements (as a start, the current balance of all accounts – savings, loans, mortgages, credit cards);
- An appraisal of the value of the family home;
- Superannuation statements;
- Redbook appraisals for each car.
The financial information can become more complicated when there are self-managed superfunds, companies and trusts to understand. It his information can be copied and exchanged so you each have a copy – and you can look at it together to make sure you understand what it is the two of you own and owe.
Before the meeting.
To make the process work smoothly, preparation is necessary!
It’s a good idea to get legal advice before you start direct negotiations with your spouse so you have an overview of the legal issues relating to your
circumstances and to ensure you don’t negotiate an agreement that is unfair to you.
A few days before each meeting, try to agree on an agenda or at least write a list of the things you want to discuss in the meeting, and keep in mind your spouse will have their own list of things that are important to them to discuss.
During the meeting.
At the start of your meeting, compare your lists and try and agree on what decisions need to be made that day, and what can be discussed at a later date.
Try not to tackle too many things in each meeting to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and limit the time you met from 1-2 hours each meeting.
The first one or two meetings will likely be dedicated to understanding what it is you own and owe, and what arrangements and agreements need to be made in the short term to maintain a holding pattern until long-term agreements and arrangements are put in place.
You will want to take notes, so make sure you have a notebook and pen (it’s a good idea to keep a notebook dedicated for these meetings).
At the end of each meeting, try and have a set of actionable tasks you are each to do before your next meeting – for example, arranging for the family home to be valued (or gathering some real estate appraisals), or getting financial advice about your borrowing capacity (if you want to keep the home, for example).
After the meeting.
Before your meeting ends, set a time and date for your next meeting, and make sure you complete the tasks you have agreed to do to ensure the discussions remain productive and progress is made. If there is some type of delay, be open with your spouse about the delay and see whether they can help you, or some other arrangements can be made.
I also encourage you to continue getting legal advice between each meeting to review your progress, and make sure you and your spouse are travelling in the right direction with your negotiations and discussions, and you are clear on the legal implications attached to the solutions you are exploring.
Other pathways and final agreements.
If the conversation becomes too difficult, and you simply can’t reach an agreement on particular issues, it might be worth considering mediation or engaging a lawyer to negotiate on your behalf.
If you do make an agreement, talk to your lawyer about the most appropriate documents to use, generally:
- Application for Consent Orders and the Draft Orders; or
- A binding financial agreement; or
- A combination of both documents.
If you find yourself wanting to try negotiating directly with your spouse, or you are in the process of negotiations already and you want to make sure you’re on the right track – then I encourage you to get in touch.
Megan Sweetlove is a divorce lawyer and the owner of Sweetlove Family Law. Megan has worked with families who are experiencing separation and divorce for over 10 years.
Using a kind, compassionate and caring approach, Megan will work with you to develop a strategy that will enable you to have a successful separation and to work out the best way to move forward, taking into account your economic and emotional needs.
If you or someone you know needs assistance during divorce you can organise a complimentary 20 minute phone appointment with Megan here.
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