It’s funny how they choose the term “settlement” to describe how your divorce ends. The implication is that no matter what happens, you’re going to have to settle for a decision that leaves you feeling cheated, rather than fulfilled. For many women, this is exactly what the other side of a divorce proceeding feels like.

Contrary to popular belief, the mother does not always get primary custody of children, and things are not always split 50/50 as many people envision. Since only about five percent of divorces go to trial, this means that divorcing couples usually have to reach an agreement, either directly or through a mediator, they both can agree on. Often, this can become a painful process of negotiation, accusations, and potential humiliation.

No matter what method you choose to settle your divorce, you want a settlement that leaves you satisfied, if not completely happy. To do that, apply these five tips to your own situation to get a settlement that works for you.

1. Know What You’re Worth

Before you start considering what’s fair, you need to have an idea of what you and your soon-to-be-ex will be negotiating for. Make a list of all the assets you have, including your income, any real estate you own, cars, stock options, investments in retirement, valuable items like area rugs, etc. Once you’ve listed them all, sub-divide them by who has the most likely claim to them. For example, your car title may be in both parties’ names, even though the loan is actually in your name.

On that note, you also need to have a thorough understanding of your cumulative debts, including mortgages, student loans, credit card debt, etc. Those will also be divided during your proceedings, not just your assets.

Keeping this information in mind, and having the documentation to back up your claims, will help you get the outcome you want later.

2. Understand How Your State Handles Divorce Settlements

Every state has laws regarding different aspects of divorce, including alimony, child support, and property division. Before you even begin to dream about what your perfect settlement looks like, study your state’s divorce laws to see what’s realistic.

In particular, there are two primary methods that states use regarding how they award property during divorce proceedings – community property and equitable distribution. Which method your state uses will play a large role in what your settlement will likely look like if it goes to trial.

Community Property

With this method, any property and assets you and your spouse have accumulated during your marriage will be evenly divided. Any assets that you acquired before or after your marriage, known as separate property, are considered your sole possession. In most cases, you’ll keep separate property without dispute.

States that utilize this method are sometimes referred to as “50/50 states.” There are currently nine states that utilize the community property method: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Equitable Distribution

Under the equitable distribution setup, all of the assets a married couple owns are divided in a way that’s considered fair to both parties but not necessarily equal. Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, this may or may not involve your separate property as well. All states, with the exception of the nine listed above, utilize the equitable distribution system.

3. Prioritize What Matters to You Most

In many cases, you don’t need to get the most items or the most money from your settlement to get what truly matters to you. For example, you may not care a bit about keeping the new family car so long as you retain 90% custody of your children.

If you’re contracting an attorney to negotiate on your behalf, it’s absolutely essential that they understand your priorities. Even a good settlement probably won’t give you everything that you want. If your attorney understands what you want most, they can negotiate towards matching your priorities at the cost of assets that you don’t care as much about.

4. Attempt to Mediate Before You Go to Trial

Once your case goes to trial, the settlement is almost completely out of your hands. You can offer testimony and answer questions but that’s about all the input you have. At that point, it’s up to the judge as far as what you’re going to get. This can result in a settlement that you absolutely do not want, as well as costing far more than settling out of court.

By opting to mediate first, you can not only save a lot of money and time, but you can also increase your chances of getting the settlement you want.

5. Be Honest at All Times and Stay on Your Best Behavior

Whether you like it or not, while you’re going through divorce proceedings, everything you say or do can be used as potential ammunition against you. During mediation, and more so if your case goes to court, it’s critical that you tell the whole truth regarding your assets and contain your emotions at all times.

“The Court typically favors the party that has acted in good faith throughout the proceedings,” says Gerard Virga of the Virga Law Firm. “For example, if one party has been held in Contempt, the other party would benefit from that ruling, and thus potentially benefit in the awarding of assets.”

Additionally, do not try to hide any of your assets at any time. Trying to retain what you want by keeping it out of the public eye will most likely be found out. Once it is, you stand a far greater chance of losing what matters to you.

The Same Goes for Private Communication

While the above obviously applies to your in-person interactions it can also extend to your private communications. More and more, attorneys are citing text messages, online chat messages, emails, and other digital communique as evidence in proceedings. Limit what you say about your divorce proceedings in digital correspondence.

With that being said, do not keep your feelings bottled up at all times. This is going to be one of the most emotionally trying periods of your life. It’s critical that you have a divorce support group that you can share your feelings with. It doesn’t make divorce easy but it does make it easier.

It May Not Be Perfect, but It Can Be Perfect for You

Above all, you have to realize that divorce settlements are very rarely cut and dry. You’re potentially going to be delving into some humiliating aspects of your private life, face some accusations about your failings as a spouse, and fight to get what matters most to you. Your ability to remain flexible where you can afford to, steadfast where can’t, and resolute in your convictions is what will get you through. There’s no such thing as a perfect divorce settlement but if you keep these tips in mind, you might just get one that’s perfect for you.

Before you travel down the divorce path, be sure that it’s really what you want. Make sure to go through all of your resources, like marriage counseling to see if you can repair your marriage. If divorce is the right answer, use the information about to get what you deserve.

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