THE BLOG
09/29/2011 10:30 am ET | Updated Nov 29, 2011

The Biggest Obstacle to an Early Divorce Settlement

The biggest obstacle to an early divorce settlement is when one spouse wants a divorce and the other spouse doesn't. This circumstance is not uncommon at the start of most divorce cases. Divorce is difficult enough when both parties agree that it's time, but having the parties at odds about whether to divorce creates another level of conflict. It automatically has a drastic effect on any hopes for an early resolution.

The announcement of a divorce often causes trauma to the less-motivated spouse. This forestalls their willingness to discuss settlement and hurts the motivated spouse's chances for an early resolution. It is wise if the motivated spouse does not push for a settlement before the other party has had ample time to come to grips with the fact that divorce has become a reality.

More often than not, the one who wants the divorce will grow impatient and become less tolerant of the other's reluctance. They typically begin to resent the other party for delaying the process or perhaps overplaying the trauma card, and this attitude complicates and inflames everything. It never pays to rattle someone who has power over us. And make no mistake; if the goal is to settle out of court, the spouse who wants the divorce the least is the one with the power.

To make things even worse, the less-motivated spouses often tend to stall for time even after their emotional blockage has subsided. Some do this when their initial hurt turns into anger. Some do it to enhance their bargaining position, and some do it just to make it hard for the other party.

If your partner doesn't want a divorce and you do, and you want to make your divorce less agonizing and costly, you have no viable alternative but to wait it out.

We do this by accepting that:

  • The negotiation process is only as quick as the pace of its slowest participant, and that our partner's pace is out of our control.
  • Our spouse's willingness to negotiate is not something we can speed up. It comes with the passage of time.
  • We must never push our spouse.
  • We must tolerate their foot dragging for as long as we can. Complaining about it creates more delay than the reluctance itself.
  • We must be patient or appear to be patient.
  • We must never let our spouse see how much their pokiness irritates us.
  • We are hurting ourselves (or at least wasting our breath) if we begin negotiations before our spouse is emotionally up to it.

Even when both spouses are willing to discuss settlement, their varying styles can be problematic.

All decisions concerning a divorce are big decisions, and big decisions take time. They cannot be hurried, and it is unrealistic to expect otherwise. One spouse's timetable cannot rule over the other spouse's timetable.

We process big decisions by systematically becoming familiar with the product (e.g., we seldom buy the first home we inspect, nor do we buy the first auto we see). It takes time to get comfortable with making a big move.

Our individual comfort zone tells us when to make a decision. If that is threatened, we will take the path of least resistance. We will kick into our default mode and say no.

Delays may also occur if the parties have different personality types. Some of us are impulsive by nature, while others are more deliberate and prone to indecision. We must allow for these style differences, or we are likely to get a premature no.

In addition, the financially dependent spouse may need extra time to grasp the money aspect of divorce or to get a more comfortable understanding of their financial future. We all resent being rushed, and we resent sales pressure. We try to squirm away from both.

If your offer is made too early, expect to receive a cold response. It is not about how good the deal is or isn't. It is more likely due to our tendency to categorically reject even generous settlement offers that are made during the beginning stages of a conflict. This is a normal reaction, so do not take your partner's "no" as a sign that you will never be able to reach a settlement.

Asking a person to accept a particular deal, when they may not be prepared to discuss any deal at all, definitely falls into this category.

To get past this obstacle, we must create a negotiation climate in which our spouse does not feel pressured or rushed. We must be patient and allow our partner to be a partner, with a sense of shared control and ownership in the proceedings.