Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: How to Negotiate with a Reasonable Co-Parent (page 2)
Negotiation is a vitally important means of saving time, money, and aggravation when trying to figure out what is best for children—both in court and out of court. The less willing people are to negotiate, the more you will be surrounded by important (and often expensive) court appointed professionals. Negotiation is an opportunity to reach common ground in an atmosphere that is more civilized and gentle than the combative and competitive arena of high-conflict litigation. In simple, practical terms, it never hurts to try to negotiate when it comes to the best interests of your children.
Here are some proven tips for successfully negotiating custody, visitation, and many other aspects of your family or matrimonial case. These points are presented in no particular order, but they are all important.
Know the Costs
Understand that when lawyers and courts are involved, there is a price on negotiating. It costs money to talk through a lawyer, schedule court dates, and so on. Even if you are being represented at no or low cost, indirect costs exist: lost pay for time off, babysitters or childcare, gas and other transportation expenses, and the overall value of your time. Finally, there is the cost to your body and mind that being involved in the stressful atmosphere of negotiations exacts. This can often be the greatest cost.
The flip side of this principle is that there is a benefit associated with closure, or the end of your negotiations. Proceedings have a beginning and an end, and when negotiations are prolonged because of arguments over insignificant details, there is a point of diminishing returns. Stop negotiating when most of the big line items are done. Do not stand on principle. If you choose to stand on principle, be prepared to pay a lot of money for the privilege. For instance, is it really worthwhile to pay lawyer fees of several thousand dollars to add thirty minutes to your side of the visitation schedule?
The best way to help your co-parent be reasonable is by being reasonable yourself. This often translates into being a patient listener. A reasonable attitude can be communicated by restating the co-parent's position before giving your opinion on it. Refraining from exploding with comments like "That's robbery!" or "That is the most unreasonable position I have ever heard" is important. You can convey the exact same sentiment by saying, "I am thinking about what you are asking for, and I do not feel comfortable with it." There is tension and anxiety underneath even the most reasonable negotiations, and these emotions can turn a rational conversation into a free-for-all. When civilized conversation breaks down into a shouting match early on in any negotiation process, great damage is done to the process as a whole. That is because the negotiating parties will always be expecting the process to deteriorate back to that point. Another way of saying this is that there will be no trust. If you feel yourself becoming too tired or too tense to maintain a civil demeanor, take a break and rest.
Know What You Can Give
Never come to the negotiation table empty-handed. Be prepared to talk about what you are willing to give. People often make the mistake of going to a negotiation with no expectations and no idea of what is being negotiated. Their attitude is "I'll see what they are asking for and take it from there." This is an extremely poor strategy because it does not account for what would happen if both sides came into the negotiation with that mindset. Usually, this strategy results from laziness or from the belief that maybe the other side will ask for far less than you would have offered.
Don't Expect to Get Everything You Want
Never come into a negotiation expecting to get everything you want. This is a mistake that people make often when they are negotiating custody and visitation. One party decides they are offering "a great deal" or "the best deal" up front and assumes that "the deal will not get any better, so let's just agree and end this thing." Even if what is being offered is a good deal, the person considering it might not perceive it that way, but rather as evidence that one is trying to control or strong-arm the negotiations. There is something to be gained from the process of giveand-take that occurs on the way to a conclusion: you and your co-parent both feel as though you have participated in the bargaining.
Prioritize What You Want
Prioritize what you are bargaining for in terms of things you must have, prefer to have, and wish to have but could live without. It is helpful if you can deduce, decipher, or elicit those things from the other bargaining party as well. If you prioritize what you are bargaining for in this way, you can set goals for where you would like to be at the end of your negotiation. For instance, for some people a successful negotiation ends when they get 75 percent of everything they must have, 50 percent of what they prefer to have, and 30 percent of what they wish to have but could live without.
Prioritizing into these categories can provide a helpful image of what people are striving for and what the negotiation satisfies. They also form a common language for you and your lawyer to gauge your success or satisfaction at the end of a negotiation.
Do Not Ask for "One More Thing" at the Eleventh Hour
If you prioritize what you want ahead of time, you will not come up with "one more thing" just before the deal is closed. Just one more thing can kill all of the progress you have worked so hard for.
Turn the Small Yes into a Big Yes
Putting someone in an agreeable frame of mind sometimes requires negotiating small points with skill. Sometimes it is necessary to show people that saying "yes" will not kill or weaken them. Start with small points and work your way up when negotiations stall early in the process. Follow every yes with a question of what you might be able to offer in return.
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