- Avoid court if possible. Use mediation or negotiate yourself
- Prioritize the items for negotiation
- Accept you and your ex may have to compromise
- Find the best solution for your child, the silent partner at the negotiation
Though you have a legal agreement between you and your ex after a divorce, this agreement will not anticipate all the possible scenarios that can occur. Circumstances will change, your child will get older and have different needs and unforeseen events will occur. To successfully co-parent, you cannot rely on the divorce agreement to handle all this.
It is possible to keep returning to court to resolve every change in circumstances though courts usually require a substantial change to have taken place before they are prepared to change custody agreements. This is also a very costly way to go both in money and in time. The emotional impact on your children and on you is huge and the anger and mistrust generated can destroy any further possibility of co-parenting.
Using a professional mediator can help you resolve sensitive issues. The process itself can help both of you learn how to negotiate with each other. Mediation is legally non-binding and cannot be used in court in many jurisdictions. Your mediator should have written down everything you have agreed to. You can then take this agreement to a lawyer and have it formalized.
This can be a very simple process or a very difficult process. It can result in two very angry people in court. Negotiate yourself only if you feel emotionally ready. You should not negotiate yourself if there is a history of physical or emotional abuse between you and your ex.
Before you even contact your ex, you need to plan ahead. You may have a range of things you want to change. Decide what is most important to you and what is less important.
This will give you your priorities for negotiation. You can let go on some of the things lower on your list in order to gain those higher on your list. Think about compromise positions on things you want to negotiate. In other words, think through likely scenarios beforehand so you understand where you can compromise. Write all this down so you have a record of it to refer to later if you need to.
Put yourself in your ex's shoes and think about what might be important to them. Compare this list with your own and identify any potential problems.
Choose a method of communication. If you get on well, meet face to face. To reduce the chances that things could get out of control, meet in public. If it is difficult to do face to face, use the phone or instant messaging or even texting. These are all interactive but reduce the tension and reduce the chances of arguments getting out of control. Email could be used but it can be a slow process.
Rules for negotiation
- Be polite and reasonable. You are more likely to gain from being reasonable. This does not mean you should give in on everything. You can be polite and assertive at the same time.
- Listen. Probably one of the least followed rules but one essential to negotiation. If you do not listen, you do not know what is important to the other person. Without this information, it is hard to think through to a compromise and you will miss clues to the emotional state of the other person
- Remain calm. Easy to say and very hard to do. Try thinking of it like a business negotiation. Take a break when you need to. Beware using breaks to control the negotiations.
- Do not have marathon sessions. Agree beforehand on how long sessions should be and schedule breaks
- Agree to an agenda of topics to be discussed. Keep the discussion confined to a few topics and stick to the agenda
An alternative is to both come with a list and run through the list and look for agreement. Deal with those first and put them in writing. This avoids those being used later as ammunition if tempers flare and also it builds some good feeling as you have already reached some agreement.
Agree to disagree
Start by running through the list and identify any common ground. Start with common ground and work towards compromise. If you cannot reach agreement, put it to one side and try coming back to it later. If you still cannot agree, decide on a way to resolve the disagreement e.g. mediation etc. Try not to let disagreements to disrupt the progress you have made on other issues.
Look for the triple win solutions
In triple win solutions, you, your ex and your children all win. For example, your ex may wish for a school with a uniform and you may want a school nearby. Look for a school that is close. that has uniforms and a high academic standard. Everyone wins.
The Silent Party
Always remember there are in essence, at least 3 people at the negotiating table because your children are very much affected by this negotiation. In working towards compromise, make sure that it is you and your ex that are compromising and not your children. Always work towards the solution that will work best for the kids. Do not use this as a justification for your position just to win. The one party that must always win is the silent party: your children.
Congratulate yourselves for getting through the process. Make sure notes are accurate and choose one of you to write it all up or each of you take a piece. Agree on a time limit to have the agreement written up. Send a copy to each other and make corrections. Decide if you wish to formalize this with the court. Consult with a lawyer if needed. You may both agree to take a copy to each of your lawyers. They may advise formalizing the agreement.