Lawyers, mediators and judges play an important role over the course of a divorce. For contested separations, these professionals can lobby on your behalf, supervise conversations, and make the final decisions regarding asset division, custody, and spousal support. However, litigation tends to be pricey, and can unnecessarily draw out the length of your divorce. Where possible, we encourage couples to try to negotiate their own terms and file for uncontested divorce. This gives separating couples more control over how their divorce is handled, and prepares spouses for a more civil relationship post-separation.
The first step to a successful negotiation begins before the meeting itself. Since the meeting should be productive, organized, and efficient, parties need to come to negotiations prepared.
This preparation includes, in large part, understanding your finances. After the decision to separate has been made, the bills, mortgage payments, and child expenses will begin to be handled by separate accounts. It is important to acknowledge what you and your spouse spend your money on, and what your income will be immediately following separation. This will allow you to make informed decisions regarding immediate delegation of household costs. As with most post-separation decisions, you can revisit these details when there is a material change of circumstances.
The location of and the rules surrounding the negotiation are essential to a productive meeting. The location of the meeting must suit your individual needs. Typically, your children and other family members should not be present during these negotiations; you and your spouse may argue, and these conversations are deeply personal in nature. Accordingly, you will want to meet somewhere with a certain degree of privacy. Some couples may be most comfortable meeting in the matrimonial home, or one of the spouse’s residences. For others, a public location may be best. If safety is a concern, be sure to have a third party present.
Setting the Tone
The meeting should have a clear purpose, made known to both spouses before hand. An organized meeting is more likely to yield results, so decide which topics you’ll handle at a given negotiation and write them down. Starting with the topics that have less tension will start you off on the right foot, and it will show both spouses that compromise is possible. For example, division of furniture may be easier to tackle than child custody. Likewise, one meeting will not be enough to decide on all of the terms of your divorce; be prepared to meet on several occasions. For a positive outcome, it is best not to pack every topic into a single negotiation, rather spreading them over multiple meetings is recommended.
The terms of your conversation should be set out at the forefront of the meeting, so that both spouses know the expected conduct. Handling a separation is a new experience for most, so don’t underestimate the importance of outlining the rules of negotiation.
The key is to respect one another. You are dealing with an individual who, at one point, was a significant part of your life. You have shared great memories together, and now must put aside your differences to work together to build better futures for yourselves. Be kind, be patient, and be considerate. This will ease the burden on both of you, and strengthen your chances of completing a successful negotiation. Speak in a non-confrontational manner, and do not interrupt one another. Allow both parties to voice their opinions, and show the same respect to your spouse as you want reciprocated.
You and your spouse were romantically involved, and likely had a very emotional connection. So this next piece of advice may seem counterintuitive- but check your emotions at the door. These negotiation meetings should be reserved for logistics: asset division, financial arrangements, child access and living arrangements. This aspect of your separation should be taken seriously and handled as a business interaction. This is not the place to bring up the past; keep your focus on the future and accomplishing your goals.
As part of your preparation for negotiations, write down your needs. Demands that fall under this column should be reserved for the assets, conditions, or finances that are essential to your day-to-day life. As compromise plays a part in every negotiation, your non-negotiable needs should be very limited. In addition to outlining these demands, be sure to come prepared with supporting points. Simply stating that something is a “need” doesn’t help show your spouse why this particular request is meaningful to you. Respectfully stating a justification will help your case.
Similarly, your spouse is also entitled to a list of needs. Hopefully these needs are not contradictory, but you should be prepared for that reality. Listen to the needs of your spouse, and the justification that they offer. They too are leaving a relationship and are trying to build a life with maximum stability and comfort.
Here is where compromises are welcomed and often needed. This is a list of terms that are highly preferred for you; they approach the severity of a “need” but you acknowledge that the exact terms may need to be altered. Wants should be prepared in order of priority, with their individual supporting points. Listen to the wants of your spouse, and work together towards collaborative solutions that permit both of you to have as many of your wants met as possible.
It is important to realize that some of your requests won't be granted in their original form. This is not discouraging, rather an essential component of negotiation. Be prepared to lose some items from this list, but rest assured that all decisions will be thoroughly reviewed and are intended to benefit your family unit as a whole.
Preferences are the third and final tier of negotiation preparations. These items require less justification and structure, as they should be the elements of your separation that are secondary to your wants and needs. Ideally, the things that are less essential to you and fall into your preferences, can be used to level with your spouse. The more topics that you can comfortably agree on, the better.
In order to negotiate efficiently and continue moving forward, write down all of your decisions. Establishing common ground will support further agreements and provide building blocks for compromise. This will ensure that decisions are solidified and not disregarded, and will allow you to confirm that you are on the same page. At the end of your negotiation meetings, read over what you have agreed to. This will eliminate errors in communication and remind both parties that cordial compromise is possible.
Know when to call it off
Although these negotiation tactics are key to having productive negotiations, not all couples will be able to reach cordial conclusions. If a spouse becomes disrespectful, impatient, or aggressive, the meeting should be ended. This is not a sign of failure, rather a realization that a third party may be necessary for you to agree on your terms. Be vigilant for these signs of confrontation, and be prepared to walk away if necessary.
At Thistoo, we offer assistance with creating your court-ready separation agreement. If you have been able to cordially decide on the terms of your separation, check out our app to get started on your divorce application. As with written negotiation decisions and our separation agreement, we encourage you to seek legal counsel before signing any documents.