When divorcing couples choose to negotiate the terms of their divorces outside of the court system—whether through mediation or collaborative law—they typically have the best intentions going into the process. They want to be fair to each other; they want to conserve time and money by staying out of court; they want to keep their kids out of their disagreements.
But as the process moves forward, some realizations quickly set in: Negotiating financial and child-related issues that affect an entire family is hard work and probably won’t happen as quickly as everyone wants. Emotions flare, and not everyone is able to be their best selves at all times.
This is what can happen:
- Early in the negotiations, if one party is feeling some sort of guilt for causing the end of the marriage, it may lead him or her to make unrealistic agreements too quickly in the process.
- People become exhausted by a long negotiation process and simply want it to end.
Both of these tendencies weaken the durability of the divorce settlement; people agree to things that are not reasonable or realistic—but because of guilt or exhaustion, they sign an agreement that doesn’t meet their long-term needs.
Settlement by Guilt
One example of settling out of guilt involves a husband who has been having an affair. If the marriage ends upon the wife’s realization of this fact, the husband may feel guilty and ashamed. If he’s the higher-earning spouse, he may promise to maintain a lifestyle for his wife and children that isn’t financially feasible. If he’s the lower-earning spouse, he may settle for much less than needed because he doesn’t want to cause his wife any more pain.
Another example is when child custody is the main point of contention. Perhaps the wife wants to leave the marriage but feels guilty about taking the children away from their father. She agrees to a 50/50 parenting schedule, even though she knows that she and the father have vastly different parenting styles and do not communicate effectively regarding children. Because she is motivated by her heart and not her head, the parenting arrangement may be difficult to manage, and the children could regularly end up in the middle of their parents’ disagreements.
Settlement by Exhaustion
The other great trap that even the brightest, most positive people fall into during divorce is sheer exhaustion. Maybe the couple has been negotiating their agreement for a number of months and keep hitting the same walls in their negotiations. Maybe every time they make progress, another issue arises. Or maybe they chose the mediation process hoping to save money, but soon realized that they weren’t coming to agreements and they needed the support of collaborative attorneys.
Divorce is hard enough when the process moves forward in a linear fashion. Stops and starts and long delays can make the process unbearable for one or both parties. Eventually, one person may make a proposal that is not well-thought-out and may not work in the long term, but the other party accepts it because they’re “DONE!”
The way to avoid having guilt or exhaustion drive your agreement is to make use of a non-adversarial, supportive attorney as well as a divorce coach and financial professional:
- The attorney must not be afraid to hold her client accountable for the decisions she is making.
- The financial professional provides a reality check to make sure any financial plan can actually work in the long term.
- The coach helps the client to manage the emotions that are causing the guilt or exhaustion.
Divorces with complicated issues should not be a sprint, nor should they be an endurance sport. As any good athlete knows, you need to surround yourself with coaches and a team that will support you and help you work through the legal and financial issues as you deal with all the emotions that are coming up.
Contact me today to learn more!
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