The Politics of Family Law

 In Blog, Collaborative Law, Cool Stuff, Divorce

Since Friday and the non-vote of the Republican Health Care plan, there have, obviously, been hundreds – probably thousands – of articles and news reports. Like everyone else, I’ve flipped through more than a few of them.  After a little while they seemed to all run together and I was left feeling that I knew little more than I did before I started reading and watching.


Then, though, I ran across an article in the Washington Post. It talked about why the health-care deal failed – but not in political terms. It was all about negotiation. Tactics, game theory, solving problems. That’s what this article was about and I found it fascinating.


And, totally applicable to my practice.


The article, A Harvard Negotiations Expert Explains… is actually an interview with Deepak Malhorta, of Harvard Business School and the author of Negotiating the Impossible. He talks about what it takes – and what it doesn’t take – to negotiate agreements … especially where the parties have issues.


For those who may be new to my blog, my practice is primarily about using collaboration or mediation to work out family law issues before they become full-fledged court matters. In my mind, court is that ‘nuclear option’ that is also all over the political news right now as well.


But, ‘working things out’ sounds a lot easier on the page than it is in the real world. It’s hard, it takes work, it takes the willingness to give and take with the person you are trying to separate from. Yet it is usually much – much – better than going to court.


That said, here are the lessons I got from the Post’s article.


When two (or more) people need to hammer out an agreement it simply can’t be about winning and losing. It’s not chess, wrestling, NCAA basketball, the Super Bowl. As professor Malhorta states, if go in to make a deal with another person and you’re looking for ‘the most advantageous’ deal for yourself, you’re starting from a completely flawed’ position.


All negotiations are about human interactions, so act like a human. He doesn’t specifically say this, but it’s certainly implicit in the professor’s every word.


I found this almost as profound as it is simple: you cannot walk into a negotiation and “begin dictating the terms”. That certainly includes issuing ultimatums. Ultimatums, Malhorta points out, ‘rub people the wrong way.” It makes the other person “escalate the conflict a little bit further on their end.”


Just as important, you can’t go into a meeting “pretending that you know and they don’t know” the facts. That’s a prescription for disaster.


Instead, Malhorta suggests … humility. Go into a meeting with a dollop of humility is, he says, one of the most important elements to a successful negotiation.  As he says, “humility is what forces you to be prepared. Humility is what forces you to say, ‘I don’t know everything’ or ‘I don’t fully understand, so I’m going to have to listen rather than tell them how things are.’


It really is all about working with the other person to ‘figure out a way to knock down the barriers that stand in the way’ of an agreement.

Out of an article about the current state of politics I got a good, solid look at what makes a mediation or a collaborative divorce work. It’s an important lesson for all of us, I think, for a host of situations.

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