Video #38 – Starting Settlement Discussions

Video Transcript

Welcome to 

Christina:  This is Christina.

Ed:  This is Ed.  Today, we are going to talk about how to start settlement discussions with your spouse.

Christina:  Let’s assume I have filed for divorce, filled out my Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure documents, and served copies of all my paperwork to my spouse.  Let’s also assume I have watched all of the “Getting Educated” videos so I am now educated enough to begin settlement negotiations with my spouse.  How do I approach the negotiation process?

Ed:  If you are able, start by having a face-to-face discussion with your spouse about all the issues you need to agree upon.  Have the discussion at a coffee shop or similar place if you feel meeting in a public place will help keep the discussion calm.  If you can’t have a discussion face-to-face, do it over the phone or exchange settlement proposals via email. 

Christina:  How do I start to negotiate?

Ed:  Start with simple issues that you feel confident you can agree upon.  Property issues are usually a good starting point.  It is usually much easier to reach an agreement about how to divide furniture or bank accounts than to agree on how to divide children or how much support should be paid.  Once you get the ball rolling with some initial agreements about how to divide your property, keep the momentum going.  Build on those simple agreements to move on to more difficult issues.  Save the hardest issues for last.  It may take several meetings over a period of weeks or months before you can reach an agreement on all issues.

Christina:   What do I do if I can’t reach an agreement with my spouse on some of the issues?

Ed:  If you can’t reach an agreement with your spouse on a particular issue, try making concessions on other issues and then “packaging” a settlement involving a group of issues.  Sometimes, reaching a settlement is just a question of timing.  Put off settlement discussions until your spouse is in a more receptive mood to negotiate.

Sometimes, the roadblock to settlement is the failure of one or both spouses to listen to the other spouse’s concerns.  I can’t over-emphasize this.  If you are stuck on a particular issue, ask your spouse to describe in detail his or her concerns regarding that issue.  Then, really listen to your spouse.  Don’t interrupt.  Don’t argue.  Let them have their full say.  Sometimes, cases can’t be settled until your spouse feels they had a chance to express their feelings and concerns and you actually listened and understood what they said.  After you have listened to your spouse, ask your spouse what he or she thinks can be done to address their concerns.  Work on coming up with a plan that will address their concerns.

Christina:  In my practice, I have found that most people can agree on how to divide their assets and debts, but reaching an agreement on child custody is a major problem.

Ed:  If you are stuck on child custody-related issues, consider setting up a meeting with a therapist that specializes in children’s issues and ask the therapist to help you and your spouse reach agreements on custody issues.  There are therapists that focus their practice on children and child custody disputes.  Frequently, these therapists work with divorce lawyers and the courts.  For example, in high conflict custody disputes, the parties will sometimes stipulate to hire a private therapist to conduct what is called a “custody evaluation”.  The therapist will meet with the parties, interview the children, talk to third parties, and do other things to figure out the type of child custody arrangement that will be in the best interests of the children.  The therapist then writes a report that is filed with the court.  The court will give a lot of weight to the recommendations contained in the therapist’s report.  These types of private child custody evaluations can be very expensive, costing $10,000 or $20,000, and sometimes more.  I’m not suggesting that if you are doing your own divorce, you and your spouse go out and hire a therapist to do a private custody evaluation.  I am merely letting you know that there are therapists out there that are highly specialized when it comes to child custody issues and many of these therapists not only do child custody evaluations but will also meet with parents to help them reach agreements about child custody issues.  I have had many clients that we’re unable to agree on custody issues.  I referred them to a local therapist and, after two or three meetings with a therapist, the vast majority of my clients were able to reach a custody agreement.  

Christina:  What if, after lots of discussions, my spouse and I just can’t agree on how to settle some or all of the issues involved in our divorce case – what do I do?

Ed:   If you can’t come to terms on one or more issues, consider meeting with a mediator.  Mediation is certainly better than litigation.  We will discuss how mediation works in the next video.


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