How collaborative negotiation is different from what you expect - Collaborative Family Law Association of St. Louis

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How collaborative negotiation is different from what you expect

Alan Freed

Everyone negotiates; it’s a part of daily life. Whether asking the boss for a raise, shopping for a new car, setting the budget for your company, or arguing with your teenage son about his curfew, we all regularly engage in bargaining.

In every divorce, couples, whether represented by lawyers or trying to work things out across the kitchen table, have to figure out how to divide their property and debts, how much support will be paid, and how to share the children’s care. Typically, these negotiations are based upon two factors: power and rights.

Power-based negotiations rely upon each person’s sources of power:  money, physical strength, control of the children, superior skill, just to name a few. Rights-based negotiations use an outside authority, such as the law, religion, or a moral code as the basis for the desired outcome.

In the Collaborative Process, however, we focus on each person’s interests. Rather than basing the outcome on what the law says, we instead want to hear what is important to each of the spouses. If the couple is trying to figure out what to do about the marital home, we are not concerned about how a judge might handle the issue. Instead, we want to understand why Mom wants to keep the house or why Dad wants to sell the house.

Mom’s concerns might be about keeping the kids in the same neighborhood or qualifying for a new mortgage. Dad might want to be paid for his portion of the home equity or getting his name off of the mortgage. Once we understand these interests, we can generate options to address them.

The options might include selling the house now or selling it a couple of years down the road, after the youngest child finishes elementary school. Perhaps the mortgage can be refinanced to get Dad money to buy a new house and to get his name off the existing mortgage.

The Collaborative Professionals (mental health and financial professionals and lawyers) assist their clients, first by gathering information about a problem, then identifying each person’s interests, generating options for resolving the issue, and helping sift through the various options to find one (or a combination of more than one) that best meets the couple’s needs.

This interest-based negotiation process allows for a thorough discussion of each issue, giving each person the opportunity to be heard. Each of them has an equal ability to agree or disagree with any given option, so no resolution occurs until both people are satisfied.

Interest-based negotiation is valuable because it levels the playing field and empowers the divorcing couple to do what is best for their family, regardless of how a judge might have dealt with the case. Each outcome is tailored to a family’s specific needs.

To find out more about how the Collaborative Process works and whether it is right for your family, contact one of the Collaborative Family Law Association professionals listed on this site.

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