How to win in a divorce

Nobody wins in a divorce. You have heard that one before. But that refers more to the overall process and how you feel after a divorce. It’s sad and sometimes the best you can really hope for is to feel less lousy. Yet within a divorce mediation and collaborative divorce negotiation, spouses do have the opportunity for small wins in the form of compromise.

Now, the word compromise gets a bit of a bad rap these days. You say compromise and some people tend to think you caved and gave up something. In reality, compromise is a synonym for trade, and it is a tool for spouses to get more of what they want in a negotiation as long as they are willing to offer the something that the other person wants.

Of the three types of divorce—litigation, divorce mediation and collaborative divorce—litigation offers the least room for compromise or trade. That is to say, it really doesn’t offer any room that’s the choice of the spouse. Most often, the choice is made by your attorney or the judge.

For example, if you and your spouse can’t decide on who gets the house, a judge could simply say, “Since the two of you can’t decide, the house will be put up for sale.”

In that same example, your attorney might be telling you to concede the house or neither you nor your spouse will be living in it. You will make the final decision, but it will be driven by the judge and your attorney.

In divorce mediation and collaborative divorce, compromise or trade falls into the hands of the couple. Most couples enter a negotiation knowing he/she will have to be willing to concede on some things in order to receive considerations he/she might value more in other areas.

For example, let’s say one spouse would like more quality time with his/her children. That could result in that parent agreeing to drop off and pick up his/her child at soccer practice rather than just splitting the driving equally.

Or perhaps one parent doesn’t value a holiday, let’s say Easter, as much as the other. So, a compromise or trade could be one parent gets the children for Easter in exchange for July 4.

In a collaborative divorce negotiation, compromise is also a key component. Yet with a team of experts in place, couples have a better structure and more resources available to help brainstorm and drive trades/compromise.

With both types of divorce, there tends to be a feeling out process. That’s why couples typically start on smaller issues to gauge the willingness of his/her spouse to compromise.

For example, I had one case where a couple had two vehicles: a sedan and a pickup truck. Both wanted the truck as both parties would soon be moving. In litigation, a judge might have ordered the truck sold or determined who would get the truck. In a collaborative divorce, the couple came up with an arrangement where the spouse who got the truck agreed to let the spouse who didn’t borrow it a certain number of times per month.

Each time one spouse compromises on a certain issue, it buys him/her negotiating currency for something that might be important to him/her.

For example, back to our truck scenario. If there was an item in the house that both spouses valued, it might be the spouse who got the truck who concedes that particular item since he/she got their desired vehicle, the truck.

Starting small, couples can then work on more significant compromises. For example, both spouses want to remain in the family home. With the guidance of the financial experts, one spouse may concede the family home for reduced alimony payments or a larger portion of the couple’s 401 (k).

It may be difficult to say anybody wins in a divorce negotiation, but successful compromising and trading can create a number of win-win scenarios that can leave individuals spouses feeling like he/she has been in control of the choices.

For couples with children, they do gain something perhaps even more valuable from this process: knowledge. By successfully negotiating a divorce through compromise, they now have the tool set to do the same for issues that arise post-divorce. This can reduce or eliminate trips back to court and reduce the costs associated in doing that. And that’s an area where both parties can almost always agree.