Couples facing divorce typically experience a great deal of anxiety, stress and emotional pain during the process. In fact, many get caught up in their anger and frustration to the point that they end up sabotaging or killing their divorce settlement. This is an outcome couples should strive to avoid, especially since decisions made now can significantly impact them financially and emotionally for many years to come.
Most courts in the greater Houston area now require couples to try mediation before heading to court. I view this as a great opportunity to reduce divorce costs and get to an equitable settlement in a timely manner. Of course, that depends on the parties involved and their willingness to set aside negative emotions in the interest of being reasonable and focused on a fair agreement.
Here are some keys to ensuring you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse don’t sabotage the mediation process with negative comments or bad behavior.
Key #1: Avoid knee jerk reactions to proposed offers
If an offer strikes an emotional chord, take a deep breath and count to 10, if you must. Think about it thoroughly before responding — “no” or “yes.” Take the time you need to make decisions you can live with. In negotiations like this, it is far better to hesitate and feel committed to a decision than decide and then change your mind later. Going back on accepting an offer later in the process can put negotiations at risk. Saying “no” allows the parties to consider other options.
Key #2: Don’t shoot yourself in the foot
Losing your head for a moment can cause you to do or say something that may feel good at the moment, but could end up hurting you in the long-run. It may seem innocuous enough, or just roll off your tongue in jest, but actions like this could push the wrong buttons with the other party and trigger a deep, emotional reaction. Something like this also may cause negotiations to grind to a halt before they get started.
Key #3: Know what you want and expect to compromise
The process of mediation involves building bridges of trust between parties where little or none currently exist. This involves taking small steps in the form of agreeing to a variety of terms along the way. As you continue to agree on small issues, you will see success, which then allows each of you to make bigger decisions more easily as you begin trusting the process and each other. It helps to know what you want from the settlement. Work with your divorce financial analyst and/or attorney to flesh out a strategy ahead of time. Understand you will likely have to compromise along the way. Identify to yourself what areas you may agree to compromise in exchange for something you want more. Of course, you keep these desires close to your vest until the right moment in negotiations.
Key #4: Do not breach the trust you are building
Once an agreement has been reached on an issue, both parties view it closed. Often it is the building block for other decisions that need to be made. If either party changes their mind, recants or wishes to vary the term, it is always viewed as a breach of an agreement. All the trust that may have been gained through the process may be either lost or severely impaired if one spouse reneges. Accusations can follow, old history of former breaches of trust in the relationship may come up, all giving fuel to negative emotions once again. Changing one term now calls into question all other terms that had been agreed upon, especially if some of those were made as a concession to agreeing to the term now being revisited. This can put the whole process back to square one, costing all parties more time and money. I’ve seen parties lose all hope of securing cooperation in these instances, and instead decide to take the process to litigation.
Rule #5: Own your decisions
For most couples, it is typical to take a step forward and then one back. This is the nature of mediation. Hopefully, the steps back are fewer than the steps forward. Sometimes, after a mediated settlement agreement has been reached, drafted in writing and circulated for approval and signature of the parties, one spouse will suddenly want to significantly change a section of the agreement. Sadly, this also can be a deal breaker that pushes negotiations into the courtroom. The other spouse may conclude there is no hope of trusting the other in the mediation process, and comes to see mediation as wasted time and money. If you have negotiated a settlement agreement, and are thinking about changing your mind, think twice. Don’t say yes unless you really mean it; and then, own your decisions.
Join Patricia Barrett who will be presenting at upcoming Guide to Good Divorce seminars in 2016, and at Leisure Learning Unlimited. For more information on divorce financial planning or divorce mediation, visit Patricia’s website, Lifetime Planning.
This article is designed to provide readers with a general overview of the issues discussed and is not a substitute for legal or financial representation.