Divorcing couples have three basic negotiation routes to end the marriage. Depending on the level of trust between the spouses, direct negotiations allow the divorcing couple more control than leaving the final decisions to an arbitrator or a judge. Here are the three basic approaches to divorce negotiations a couple may apply:
- Direct negotiation with a spouse cuts the stress and produces an agreement that the couple can live and work with, particularly when there are minor children. In this regime, the spouses work out their settlement together, and then the lawyer for each party critiques the accord. Each party retains a lawyer unless the couple is divorcing pro se, which normally means a short marriage, minimal assets, and no children. The lawyers advocate for the client, so each attorney may argue that the accord is not in the best long-term interest or his or her client, and the law provides a different result, or the client has neglected important information, such as the value of certain assets. The couple may meet several times to discuss and negotiate changes suggested by the lawyers.
- Four-corner negotiations with lawyers sometimes break the logjam when the couples cannot “work it out at the kitchen table.” In this routine, the spouses and their lawyers meet together to decide how to proceed and what information each requires to discuss settlement. At the next meeting, the spouses and their lawyers sit around the conference table in one of the lawyer’s offices and negotiate.
- Lawyers negotiate alone when the spouse cannot sit at the same table without fighting or arguing. In this routine, the spouses are in separate rooms while their lawyers negotiate face-to–face. The couples exchange information about assets and income before agreements can be made. The lawyer for each spouse talks periodically with his or her client as he and the other lawyer work out the issues to make sure of agreement. This process is cumbersome. Messages travel from lawyer to client back to lawyer and back to the negotiating table. Like whisper down the alley, the message and the meaning gets lost or distorted moving from person to person, so sometimes it has to be done all over again, but eventually clients and lawyers reach an agreement.