This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.
In this article we look at how to deal with disagreement — from simple difference of opinion to active upset and anger — and some specific steps that will help you reach an agreement.
More than 90% of all cases are settled before trial. Unfortunately, too many are settled only after the spouses have spent their emotional energies on conflict and their financial resources on lawyers. The time and effort spent battling has impaired their ability to get on with their lives and may have caused serious psychic damage to themselves and their children. The spouses could have saved themselves all that simply by agreeing to settle earlier. Why didn’t they?
Okay, here you are, heading for a divorce; your spouse is going to be involved and you want to work out an agreement. What’s so hard about that? Why don’t you just do it? Easier to say than do, isn’t it? There are good reasons why it’s hard for spouses to work out an agreement — five, to be exact:
- Emotional upset and conflict
- Insecurity and fear
- Ignorance and misinformation
- The legal system and lawyers
- And finally, the real disagreement
To get an agreement, in or out of the legal system, with or without an attorney, you have to overcome the five obstacles. Let’s look at them in a little more detail to see what you’re dealing with.
1. Emotional upset and conflict
This is about high levels of anger, hurt, blame, and guilt — a very normal part of divorce. If one or both spouses are upset, you can’t negotiate, have reasonable discussions or make sound decisions. Complex and volatile emotions become externalized and get attached to things or to the children.
When emotions are high, reason is at its lowest ebb and will not be very effective at that time. There are various causes of upset—from the divorce itself to the stress of major change to broken dreams. You may also fear the change that is happening and the unknown future. You may be at different stages of readiness to accept what is happening or willingness to proceed, which can be a hidden cause of conflict in many instances. You may also have a history of bad communication habits or conflict, and there may be particular events or circumstances such as a new lover or new debt that are fueling extreme emotions.
2. Insecurity, fear, lack of confidence and unequal bargaining power
You can’t negotiate if either spouse feels incompetent, afraid, or that the other spouse has some big advantage.
Divorce is tremendously undermining and tends to multiply any general lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. Also, there are often very real causes for insecurity, such as lack of skill and experience at dealing with business and negotiation, as well as lack of complete information and knowledge about the process and the marital affairs.
It doesn’t matter if insecurity is real or reasonable; it is real if it feels real. This is where our coaching and consultation services can really help. You can consult with one of our attorney mediators over the phone or in person to become better informed about the divorce process and what to expect, as well as getting answers to questions about issues such as asset division, child support or your other concerns.
3. Ignorance and misinformation
Ignorance about the legal system and how it works can make you feel uncertain, insecure and incompetent. You feel as if you don’t know what you are doing, and you are right.
Misinformation is when the things you think you know are not correct. Misinformation comes from friends, television, movies, even from lawyers who are not family law specialists. It can distort your expectations about your rights and what’s fair. It’s hard to negotiate with someone who has mistaken ideas about what the rules are.
Fortunately, both conditions can be easily fixed with reliable information. We encourage you to look through at our FAQ page, as well as the articles on our Blog. If you still have unanswered questions, give us a call or fill out our contact form and we’ll help you get the information you need.
4. The legal system and lawyers
The legal system does not help you overcome obstacles to agreement. In fact, it can be one of the major obstacles that you have to overcome. The traditional adversarial court-based divorce approach is not designed to support you in reaching a mutual agreement with your spouse. That’s why we believe so strongly in divorce mediation. It provides an alternative to a combative court-based divorce and can save you time, stress and expense.
5. The real disagreement
This involves the real issues that you want to deal with rationally and negotiate with your spouse.
Real disagreement is based on the fact that the spouses now have different needs and interests. After dealing with the first four obstacles, these real issues may turn out to be minor, but even if they are serious, at least they can be negotiated rationally.
The solution is in your hands, and all obstacles to your agreement are personal, between you and your spouse and between you and yourself.
Take care. Pay special attention to emotional upset and especially insecurity and fear. These are the forces that drive people into a lawyer’s office. You want to avoid doing anything that might increase the upset and fear of either spouse.
The upset person is saying, “I can’t stand this, I won’t take it anymore! I’m going to get a lawyer!” The insecure person is saying, “I can’t understand all this, I can’t deal with it, I can’t deal with my spouse. I want to be safe. I need someone to help me. I’m going to get a lawyer.”
And this is how cases get dragged into unnecessary legal conflict.
You need to arrange things so both spouses are comfortable in managing the divorce without retaining an attorney. If you think your spouse may be upset or insecure, you have to be very careful and patient. If you are feeling incapable of dealing with your own divorce, know that there is plenty of help available through Divorce Helpline.
Going through major life changes — in other words, re-creating your life — is demanding, hard work, but it may be the most important thing you ever do. We can help you get through this life change and resolve your real disagreement so that you can take the steps you need to move forward. Contact us today and we can help you explore your options and remove the obstacles to reaching agreement.