The best way to divorce is to do it quickly, and as painlessly and inexpensively as possible. To accomplish this, the divorcing parties must be able to settle their differences out of court. This involves persuasion -- both spouses must do what they can to sell the other on a settlement that both find acceptable.
So, how is this best accomplished? In most instances, the answer lies in how you plead your case to your spouse. You cannot say whatever comes naturally. This rarely works during marriage, and the odds are it is not going to work during divorce. There is no free speech in divorce settlement conversations. What you say can and will be used against you. Utter the wrong thing now and you are likely to wind up paying for it later.
When you want to learn how to knit, drive, play the piano or use karate, you take lessons. Need tax help? You talk to a CPA. Learning how to discuss a divorce settlement with your spouse is not much different.
Your partner's mind is locked and can only be opened from the inside. If you hope to
gain entry and disengage their resistance, it doesn't hurt to be aware of the following professional divorce money saving insights:
- Tread softly at beginning of your talks. A non-confrontational start is vital to your overall chances of settlement. Proceed at your partner's pace, not yours.
- Use a comforting tone of voice. This transmits sincerity and good will.
- Give your partner ample opportunity to state their case. Never interrupt them and always wait three seconds before responding.
- Allow your spouse to speak more than you do. Act as though you are there to learn, not to teach.
- Assume a listening position. Sit up straight on the edge of the chair, lean forward, and maintain eye contact. Do not cross your arms or legs and be sure your face does not register disapproval of what your partner is saying.
- Display keen interest in their concerns. Never say what you think is fair; they only care about what they think is fair.
- Show that you want to understand your spouse's position by asking supporting questions. When they say something of great concern to them, repeat it back slowly while maintaining their point of view. Use a tone of voice that transmits genuine curiosity about where they're coming from.
- Acknowledge their point of view as being worth consideration. They need to know that you validate their right to think as they do.
- Understand that you cannot be persuasive unless you first show that you are persuadable.
- Expect your spouse to say something to anger you and do not get angry back. If you anticipate their anger, it will not get to you. Angry people are unable to compromise; and anger never sells anyone on anything. When they blow their top, do not defend yourself and be careful of your first reaction. Deliver a non-offensive response by saying, "I see that you are upset." This subtly acknowledges their anger without judging them for feeling the way they do.
- Flinch or wince with mild surprise when they make a major proposal. They are watching for your reaction, and a facial grimace shows you won't accept what they are offering. This politely indicates your disapproval without starting an argument. A flinch usually softens their thinking.
- Never say no too quickly. If you want your spouse to give serious thought to what you want, you have to appear to give serious thought to what they want.
- Resist saying yes to a first offer even if you think it's a good deal. You do not want your spouse to think they offered too much.
- Do not start at your bottom line. Inexperienced negotiators feel more comfortable doing so, but try to resist this natural temptation. It leads to deadlock, and deadlock leads to a court battle.
- Expect your spouse to say no to your first proposal and don't carry on when you hear it. A no is rarely final and usually serves to mark the real starting point of the negotiations.
- Don't belittle your spouse's offer. Validate it as a possibility, explain why you disagree, and ask for their assistance in coming up with something that you both might find acceptable.
- Do not make the first concession. It will not be appreciated and can lead to expectations of further concessions.
Divorce puts into play emotions, perspectives, and other dynamics that require special handling. Your common sense, verbal skills, and general savvy (which likely serve you well in other parts of your life) do not prepare you for these conversations.
The above suggestions do not solve every problem, but they have no downside and will not make your problem worse.
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.
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