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3 Things You Need to Decide to Finalize Your Divorce

In order to finalize your divorce, you're going to need to come to agreement with your ex on a few key things. Decisions will need to be made about dividing property and debt, child custody, and child/spousal support – and you'll both be better off if you can make these decisions yourselves, without the court intervening.

It might feel right now like you and your soon-to-be ex can't agree on anything. But if you want that final decree of divorce, you'll need to make some choices ... and some concessions. Is it worth fighting for the family dog? Maybe. Is it worth fighting over who gets the sofa? Maybe. But you're not going to get everything you want at the end of this process, and neither is your spouse. That's worth keeping in mind. In fact, make it your mantra. Divorce isn't about "winning" or "losing" – it's about unwinding your lives so you can both move forward. This is the dissolution of a contract.

CHECKLIST: What to Include in Your Divorce Agreement

We're here for you

You know this, but Hello Divorce is always here for you. Our legal team is available in as little as 30-minute increments to help you understand how to work through the divorce process, strategize to get what you truly want and need out of your divorce settlement, and help you complete and file your divorce forms correctly. The goal is to keep the process as short and simple as possible.

We also offer virtual mediation, which you can access on your own or as a couple. If you're having a hard time coming to agreement, mediation is a smart way to keep costs down while engaging a neutral third party to help you navigate tough discussions – especially about property, kids, and financial support. (If you'd rather meet face-to-face with someone local, we have a terrific network of vetted partners, and we can make referrals.)

So let's take a look at the three key items you and your spouse need to agree on to finalize your divorce.

Property and debt

All property and debt acquired during your marriage must be divided, assigned, or equalized. Property includes everything from vehicles to furnishings to bank accounts, tax refunds, real property, retirement benefits, and stock options. The property must be divided fairly for the judge to grant your divorce.

The following resources can help you work through the process of itemizing your property, debts, and assets:

  • Divorce Navigator: Our tool allows you to complete the forms required for divorce in your state on your own, at your own pace, with helpful resources and tips along the way. Save your work as you go. Then, print file-ready copies to send to the court when you're finished.
  • Dividing Personal Property Spreadsheet: Our spreadsheet template helps you and your ex indicate and comment on specific items you'd like to keep.
  • Property and Debt Division Cheat Sheet: This spreadsheet helps you assign value to community property and debt to get a complete picture of your financial situation. The document also helps you determine how to equitably separate these items based on their monetary value.

An important note: If you are trying to determine the value of a business that is considered community property, or if you think your spouse is hiding assets or not being completely truthful or accurate in their financial disclosures, you may want to hire a forensic accountant. This article will tell you when and how to use a forensic accountant.

Child custody

When it comes to parenting, we're all amateurs. Not everything we do is going to be perfect, especially when there are so many needs and interests to be balanced. Kids are resilient, and they will survive (and thrive) post-divorce. Custodial decisions and co-parenting are going to be an adjustment. It's not easy. But remember that you and your ex will always have one thing in common: your love for your child(ren). Here are a few resources to help you begin co-parenting on the strongest footing possible:

Child and spousal support

Money is never easy to discuss, and it can get harder when one person is asked to pay the other or help cover the cost of raising children. The party being asked to pay is likely to focus on the dollars, not the sense behind the request. When asking for support, clarify the current monthly costs for the children or spouse requesting support. Show the portion you plan to pay so it's clear you're not asking for a handout but a share of the total cost. You might also need to clarify what won't happen if you are not granted the support you need. For example, the kids may not be able to participate in sports or other activities they love. You may need to move to a more affordable location that's less convenient for the spouse to visit. Painting the clearest picture possible is important.

These resources can help you decide what to request:

The finish line: Marital Settlement Agreement

When you've come to agreement on the areas covered above, download the Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) for your state and fill it out. (California's MSA is here.) Both you and your ex should send the completed document to your respective legal representation. They will use this information to complete final documents to file with the court.

If you do not have legal representation and are completing your divorce on your own, have the MSA notarized. Once this is done, the document becomes an enforceable contract. MSAs can be used at all stages of the proceedings. So, for example, if you and your spouse have worked out all the details of your separation (with or without a mediator), you can prepare an MSA to memorialize your agreement and then go back and finish the rest of the divorce forms.

Take a deep breath

Once you get to this point in the process, take a deep breath. The most technical part of your divorce – and perhaps the most contentious – is done. Now you can start focusing on your post-divorce to-do list, like restoring your maiden name, ensuring your portion of any joint retirement accounts is squared away, and tackling this post-divorce checklist. Then, sit tight. The finish line, your final divorce decree from the court, is right around the corner.