Why Can’t We Just Settle the Divorce – Ourselves?

The thought of actually getting divorced puts us into varying degrees of shock. None of us wants to experience the sadness and upheaval of divorce, so our individual coping skills kick in and help us handle the pain. The king of these skills is denial.

Most of us look back years later and see that we unknowingly relied upon denial to spare us from recognizing that our marriage was as empty and as hopeless as it was. Similarly, once we begin to accept that divorce is now becoming a reality, we encounter the next form of denial.

This one deludes us into thinking that getting our spouse to agree to an out-of-court settlement is much easier than it really is. It causes us to underestimate the negative dynamics that come into play during our one-on-one settlement conversations with our partner.

Despite our marital differences, we tend to believe that we are uniquely capable of maintaining our spouse’s respect and trust, divorce or no divorce. Other people may have long, drawn out court experiences, but not us. We are the exception.

We are confident that he or she will see the numbers as we do, deem our settlement position to be fair, and agree to settlement terms that we deem acceptable.

We soon learn that society never taught us how to go about accomplishing this. As it turns out, there are several obstacles standing in our way that few of us anticipate. These little-recognized, but troublesome, phenomena often turn friendly and sensible divorces into nightmares.

The nine most commonly occurring of these are the subject matter of this six-part article. They are, however, just part of a much broader mindset of negativity that our adversarial culture ingrains in us, a dismal and threatening mindset that serves as a template for our distrust and skepticism.

It tells us that divorcing spouses are out for all they can get and are not above getting cute when it comes to money. This has us arriving at the bargaining table with a defensive, in-your-face attitude, which is the last thing we should be transmitting to someone who thinks that we are to blame for their pain.

As youngsters, we overheard whispers of how Aunt So-and-So got the short end of the stick in her divorce or about how “cool” it is to slip one past the other party. Legend has consistently reminded us of the proverbial unsuspecting spouse who now wishes that he or she “had known better.”

The message passed on to us is that society almost seems to expect this behavior. While it doesn’t condone it, our culture is hardly shocked by it. This alone is sufficient to put us on the defensive. And defensive people are anything but receptive. They are edgy, difficult to please, and are not at all inclined to entertain someone else’s settlement wishes.

We must also be aware of our need for validation. Our soon-to-be ex must recognize that when we are right (even if it is on a smaller point), we need them to recognize that we are “right” or it will drive us crazy until they do. Our human tendency is blow up the whole forest for this one tree.

Our partner must never ignite us by saying we are wrong when we know we are right. This is not something our pride, ego, or pigheadedness will allow us to debate. Give us this, or expect a war.

We must learn to accept that we are sitting at the bargaining table for one purpose and this is to settle our divorce; we are not there to prove we are right. We have to decide which is more important because the two do not work hand in hand.

The smart money tells us to allow our spouse to be right today. We can always be right after we divide the money.

Once we realize that society has conditioned us to enter divorce with a destructive mindset, it becomes considerably easier to deal with the obstacles that get in our way.

In the next article, we’ll deal with the common situation of when one spouse wants a divorce and the other spouse doesn’t.
J. Richard Kulerski is a veteran divorce lawyer in the Chicago area. He is a Harvard-trained negotiator and mediator and the author of Divorce Buddy System – The Real Secret to a Reasonable Divorce. Divorce Buddy System.

Posted: January 19, 2012