Second only to child custody, alimony is one of the most contentious and difficult to navigate processes during a Massachusetts divorce. When two people are splitting up, particularly when that split is acrimonious, the last thing either of them wants to discuss is the prospect of giving money to each other. But, the topic has to be dealt with and the only way to do it successfully is to go in armed with as much knowledge as possible.
It helps to really go into this with realistic expectations because, by the time you're negotiating alimony, you should have a very good idea of what all the other elements are as you close out this deal.
Here are best practice tips for negotiating alimony during a Massachusetts divorce:
Know Your Finances
One of the most important things to know when entering into alimony negotiations is what it actually costs for you to live - to understand what you can get by on, what you can't live without, and what you'd love to have. By knowing that range, you can negotiate from a better place of understanding in terms of what you might be accepting or even giving up.
Additionally, you will need to an idea of your own earning capacity. Often I'm working with individuals who are perhaps out of the workforce permanently or temporarily or not fully employed and there's a fear factor in not knowing what you're able to attract in terms of your own capabilities. It's really a great time to at least think about it and plan of how you need to be financially independent more or less at some point in your own life and what does that means.
Study the Law
Take the time to learn all of the ins and outs of the laws in Massachusetts and how they apply to alimony payments. There are many different types of alimony out there and doing the research as to what you can realistically ask for will not only help you build your case but also help you manage expectations.
Make a Budget
You're going to be paying retainers and attorney fees, so make sure that you actually have the resources available to make those payments on time. Additionally, as you begin preparations for your divorce, make sure you figure out a budget. It's an expensive process and going into it without a plan can set you up for a problem down the line.
Manage Your Expectations
Massachusetts has guidelines for child support and alimony. Judges have discretion in the amount of support they award. It's weighted by certain factors and the factors are enumerated in case law and in legal statutes. But how you apply those factors results in very different outcomes.
Plan For Contingencies
If you're dependent for the moment on your other spouse supporting you, you need to make sure that you've planned for contingencies, that you have an emergency fund in case something happens and you don't receive support for that month or six months or if he or she falls off the face of the earth. You also want to make sure that their obligations to you are secured in case they die or something unforeseen happens.
Think Twice Before Waiving Alimony
In some divorce cases, parties may choose to waive alimony, figuring that they're earning enough on their own that they don't need anything from their ex to get by. If you have waived alimony, it is waived forever. The door has closed and you can never go back for support under any circumstances. So waiving alimony is a huge deal. There are reasons to waive alimony, but for the average person who's on a paycheck, think twice about it."
Don't Agree to Anything Out of Court
Once the alimony is finalized in a judgment, one party cannot change it unilaterally and decide that, for example, they're now only going to pay once every other month. A decision like that can only be made by going back to court. However, some couples might come to some kind of a handshake agreement and allow one partner to skip a payment here and there. This is something divorce attorneys advise against because of the slippery slope it leads to. Once you start to slip and allow that and enable it, it's much harder to enforce."
Keep Emotion Out of It
The notion of taking someone for "everything they've got" in court has become a cliche in divorce-related conversations, but the truth is, you don't want to approach an alimony negotiation with anything like malice or greed, as it's only going to fuel more negatively.
Do Your Homework
Even if you think you've read everything there is read about alimony, read more, and then read it again. The better prepared you are, the less likely you are to be tripped up by something unexpected. Preparation is the best defense you can possibly have. Because managing expectations will save you money, it's going to save you in legal costs. And it sets the tone for you to understand that it's a process. It's not a sprint. It's going to be a marathon. And you're going to have to last and preserve your energy at different points in time.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.