Divorcing couples will invariably speak with one another about who should get what in the divorce. These conversations are a normal part of the dissolution process, and provide the parties with an opportunity to vent and to plead their cases.
Because the spouses are hopeful of selling the other on an out-of-court settlement (that their partner is usually unwilling to accept), it helps to be aware some of the difficulties that often arise during these talks.
What to Do When Your Spouse Pushes for an Answer
If your spouse seems insistent on getting you to agree to an item that you are not ready to agree to, do not let the issue become a sticking point.
Neutralize the situation by asking this question: "What if [this thing you want from me] was not an issue? Where would we stand then?" This alters the flow and moves the spotlight away from the item in question. It prevents a potentially delicate issue from becoming a do-or-die item and causing a premature deadlock.
If your partner remains insistent, ask to shelve the request until later. Troublesome issues can always be revisited once headway is made on some of the other points.
What to Do When They Want a Ballpark Number
In the early stages of divorce settlement negotiations with our soon-to-be ex, we are naturally hesitant to reveal our bottom line. We don't want to be held to any position until we have had a chance to really think it through.
So, when other side pushes and says something like, "Give me a ballpark so I at least have some idea where this is headed," do not give them a ballpark figure.
Tell them you need more time to think about it. To mention a ballpark number is to lock yourself in, and it gives them a chance to start whittling you down, right on the spot. Dodging the question will cause you some discomfort, but it beats addressing a question that could come back to haunt you.
How to React When You Get an Ultimatum
When they say, "Take it or leave it; this is my final offer," the recommended thing to do is to ignore the statement and continue conversing as if it never existed. Never take it personally, and never mention or allude to it. Just keep talking and allow the ultimatum to fade into oblivion.
Most ultimatums are blurted out in moments of frustration and are short-lived, and most evaporate naturally and quickly. Ignoring the threat gives your partner an unspoken opportunity to continue the negotiations without loss of face.
If they say you must settle by a certain date or time, ask, "What if I take a little more time but come back with a counterproposal that gives you just as good a deal? Would that be okay?"
Or, if your spouse insists you accept their proposal right then and there "or else," you can subdue the urgency by asking, "How about if I give it some thought and come up with something even better? That's okay too, isn't it?"
These types of questions calm the situation instead of aggravating it.
Another way to handle an ultimatum is to tell them, "You know, I might go along with this if you would agree to some of the other things I've asked for." When they ask for specific items, tell them you want to be very careful before presenting them, and that you would like a day or so to state them properly.
Questions like these neutralize the threat and give your spouse a chance to get off the hook gracefully for making it.
Do Not Negotiate via E-mail or Telephone
Spousal divorce settlement conversations are delicate, and they require all the warmth and sincerity we can transmit. Doing this face-to-face provides us with our best opportunity for getting the job done.
It is too easy for your partner to misconstrue what you are saying in an e-mail message. Negotiating via-email is about as productive as sending a telegram, and doing it over the telephone isn't much better.
The telephone, at least, allows for some of our vocal tone variations. Without the eye contact and gestures, however, their effectiveness can easily evaporate mid-wire before it gets to our partner's ears.
If you must use the telephone, try to be as upbeat as you can. Schedule the calls for times of the day when both of you are typically less harried and more likely to be in a decent mood.
You should not be on the phone if it's a bad day, a bad time of the day, or if you anticipate any interruptions.
If you must express yourself by e-mail, do so, but wait 4-6 hours before sending it. E-mails are often interpreted mistakenly, so it helps to let some time pass. This gives you an opportunity to review your email and verify that its content and tone are, indeed, as helpful to your cause as you would like.
People tend to be braver and often meaner when they communicate via e-mail or over the phone, and it is important that you keep yourself in check.
Always keep in mind that successful negotiating requires us to use as much finesse as we can muster, and this is best accomplished by personal contact.
J. Richard Kulerski and Kari L. Cornelison are partners in the Chicago area, Oak Brook, IL divorce law firm of Kulerski & Cornelison. You may find them at www.civilizeddivorce.com and at their firm's blog dupagedivorcelawyerblog.com.
Richard is the author of The Secret to a Friendly Divorce: Your Personal Guide to a Cooperative, Out-of-Court Settlement.
Follow Richard and Kari on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Chicago_Divorce