Tips for Successful Divorce Negotiations

Part of what you will be doing as you use the Negotiated Divorce system is negotiating an agreement with your spouse.  Negotiation is difficult under the best of circumstances, but in the context of a divorce where emotions run high, it can seem impossible.  The Negotiated Divorce system provides you with extensive written and video instruction about how to work toward an acceptable resolution with your spouse. The following guidelines can improve your chances of successful negotiation beginning right now.

Wait to negotiate about any issue until both parties confirm that they feel they have all the information they need to make informed choices about that issue.

Jumping the gun and trying to negotiate before information-gathering is complete is counter-productive.  Imagine that I offer to sell you my watch.  The price is $5,000.  I tell you that it’s a great deal, that you won’t do any better than what I’m offering, and that you’ll regret it if you don’t take it now – this offer is only good until 5 p.m. today.  Oh – and you have to decide with only the information you already have about it.  I can’t wait for you to gather any more information.

Can you do it?  Probably not, unless you’ve secretly had your eye on my watch for some time, know it’s in good working order, and have researched the issue thoroughly to know what you would have to pay for it if you bought it elsewhere.  You don’t have enough information to evaluate my offer, so you can’t accept it.

The same is true for negotiations in divorce.  I can make you the greatest settlement proposal in the world, but if you don’t have the necessary information to confirm my claims and underlying assumptions, you have to turn me down.  You’re suspicious of me because I’m trying to force you to decide right now, with no additional information; my feelings are hurt because you don’t trust me and you’ve turned your nose up at my great offer.  Chances are good that when you do get the information you need and you want to accept my offer, I’ll no longer be willing to complete the transaction, which may well have been a really great deal for you.  Or you’ll see my great offer as an opening bid and try to talk me off the price, which will offend me.  Waiting until information-gathering is complete on any given topic is the best way to proceed.

Do not surprise your spouse by trying to talk settlement when he or she is not prepared for it. 

You may have the world’s greatest idea, but if you try to pitch it to someone when they’re trying to wash the dog, or cook dinner, or work, it will probably not be well received. Make an appointment with your spouse to talk about specific issues for a limited amount of time.  Divide the process into small, discreet tasks.

Settle all issues at one time.  

Many couples who try directly negotiating their divorce settlements fall into the trap of making piecemeal settlements.  They will make what they think is a stand-alone agreement that meets some of their overall goals.  The problem with this strategy is that there will come a time when one spouse has satisfied all of his or her goals.  This person then has no incentive to continue to help the other person meet his or her remaining goals.  This often leads to an unraveling of the deal, leaving parties worse off than when they started, because now someone feels they have been betrayed or tricked.  The better practice is to make tentative agreements – “Assuming we can work everything else out to our mutual satisfaction, then we agree that we will divide our financial accounts as follows.”

Use Structured Settlement Discussions

Settlements negotiated directly between spouses will work best if they follow these guidelines:

  • Make an appointment with your spouse to negotiate for a limited amount of time.
  • Meet at a place that feels neutral to both parties, and where you’re unlikely to be interrupted by your children (or anyone else you might know).
  • Identify in advance one or two topics that will be discussed, then stick to those topics.
  • Agree that if anyone feels uncomfortable (for any reason or no reason) the discussions will stop with no questions asked.
  • If you make an agreement, write it down in simple terms that both parties feel clearly outlines their deal.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable making an agreement on the spot, consider making a commitment about when you will be able to make a decision.

So, the conversation inviting your spouse to a negotiation session would go something like this:

HUSBAND:   Will you meet me at Starbuck’s for an hour on Tuesday to talk about how we’re going to divide up the Christmas decorations?

WIFE: That sounds like a good idea.  Can we also address the children’s summer camp at the same meeting?

HUSBAND: Sure.  How about 2:00.  We’ll be done before 3:00 so I can pick up the kids at school.

WIFE: Perfect!

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