The First 3 Steps on Your Road to Divorce

{5:40 minutes to read} I’m in the process of writing a book in which I outline seven steps to getting divorced. The first three steps have nothing to do with negotiation. They are about understanding the problem and they are crucial to a good result. 

Step One: Choose a path and commit to it. 

Choose and Commit… choose a process that makes sense for you. The four choices are generally:

  1. Doing it yourself;
  2. Mediation;
  3. Collaborative law; or
  4. Litigation. 

In making this important choice, people have to consider their own circumstances and what makes the most sense for them given how they’re feeling about their situation, but one thing is very important to remember and that is: the overwhelming majority of divorce cases settle before the judge hands down a decision after a trial. The decision is not whether or not you’re going to settle—and by that I mean to make decisions for yourself—but how you’re going to do that. Will you choose to settle because you’re running out of money, you’re terrified about what might happen, and nobody cares, and no one is listening. Or, will you settle in an office because the terms make sense and you are ready to move on with your life? 

Consider your own circumstances and how you’re feeling about your situation. Make a careful and considered decision about what makes sense for you and your family. 

Step Two: Get Perspective 

Get perspective…get an understanding of what the facts of your life are. You need to develop a shared understanding of your economic reality, or at least a range of perspective on: 

  • What do you own?
  • What it’s worth?
  • What do you owe?
  • What is the scope of the assets and liabilities that will be divided, and what lies outside the marital assets?
  • What is your situation with regard to each of the assets, including the house, your retirement accounts, any unvested incentive compensation, securities, private equity investments, etc.? 

I’ve had quite a few cases over the years where this process was really eye-opening to one person. Oftentimes, one person in a couple has much more knowledge and understanding of the assets and liabilities of the family. Both parties getting perspective on what the reality of life is may seem obvious, but it’s not at all a foregone conclusion. 

Get “really real” about what the facts of your lives are! 

Step Three: Get Grounded 

Get grounded… deepen your understanding of what’s important to you and why. We’ve talked about this in previous blogs. People usually come into these negotiations with a position, but the person who takes that position doesn’t necessarily understand why. Each person should understand individually at first: 

  • Why are these things important to me?
  • What’s going on here for me?
  • What am I trying to achieve?
  • What do I have to lose?

Lean in. Then, once you more fully understand yourself (and not before), see if you can understand—not agree with, but understand—what’s important to the other person and why.

These three are the first steps to getting some perspective on the shared problems that you have and how to resolve the issues that need to be resolved. Each person’s perspective is crucial to the negotiation, and each person must also consider the other person’s perspective. I will never be able to force a resolution down your throat unless it makes sense to you. Even if I were able to do that, it wouldn’t work in the long run. 

You need to understand yourself. And you need to understand the other person without feeling like understanding that person threatens your understanding of yourself. Once you have gone through these three steps—separately and then together—it really shifts the view of the problems being faced. These three steps set the stage for a successful negotiation.