Confused, Scared, and Under Pressure Is No Way to Divorce

{3:19 minutes to read} Toward the end of any negotiation, a flurry of activity swarms the lives of all the people involved in the case. The parties’ legal teams use this final round of writing and editing as an important quality control check, despite the overwhelming pressure to wrap up the negotiations.

Divorce mediation is no different, and many emotions are involved—from anxiety to exasperation. Cost can also be a major factor weighing on people’s minds, which leads mounting pressure to get things done quickly and efficiently. For others, external factors like a new relationship may be the driving force behind their desire to make the transition from divorcing to divorced. And lastly, no one wants to feel like they are wasting their time.

At a recent networking event, a judge discussed the problems that can arise when agreements are put together hastily. She passed out photocopies of excerpts from several agreements from which the identifying information was omitted. Her point was to demonstrate that many were, at best, hard to interpret and, at worst, bordering even on unethical. From personal experience, I understand why some of these documents get written in such a way; attorneys and mediators are often conducting a cacophony of players that reaches a crescendo at the end of the process as we get toward the signing of the settlement agreement. Faced with last-minute changes, an agreement may change from clear and direct to somewhat vague and ambiguous.

But just because I understand why some agreements are ambiguous does not mean I like it when they are. For divorce professionals, the ending phase of negotiating requires the ability and the presence of mind to stay grounded and to make sure we are still dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. That means making sure each person is actually agreeing to the same set of terms.

Having a cool-headed attorney or mediator can help prevent unintentional or unforeseen consequences. A poorly or ambiguously worded agreement may cause trouble as soon as it is signed. If the document is poorly worded or subject to several interpretations, then the parties may have different expectations as to what will happen right after it’s signed! Other times, an agreement seems to work for months or years, until problems occur when a triggering event happens, such as the selling of a house or the conclusion of spousal maintenance.

Situations like these can lead the parties into an untenable situation. If the agreement they have been adhering to is unable to take into account a real-world situation, it may become necessary to incur more attorney fees and reopen the negotiation. This problem can be solved but it’s much easier to be clear in the first place.

I know from experience that it is always worth taking a deep breath in the last stages of negotiation in order to go over the proposed agreement with a fine-toothed comb—from a calm space. Even if it feels impossible. Coming to an agreement, signing the agreement, enacting the agreement, and understanding the agreement are separate pieces, and they all have to work together in order to make a seamless transition from getting divorced to being divorced.

To find out more, please visit my website.

Are you nearing the end of your negotiation?