Most family law cases are resolved through negotiations. Sometimes people use Collaborative Law. Sometimes they go to mediation. Sometimes they engage in informal negotiations. In a few cases, and for various reasons, sometimes they let a judge decide an issue or two, or sometimes they just go to trial.
Over the years, I have heard over and over that everyone should be unhappy after a court makes a decision. I have heard that as an argument to get the parties to reach an agreement in a divorce or family law case. I have even heard mediators say that they have done a good job if both parties are unhappy with the agreement. Does that mean that they have done a bad job if the parties like the agreement? Are our expectations so low, or is the argument just a way to get reluctant parties to accept a decision or agreement that they don't really like? I believe that negotiations can result in happiness by both sides. One process that is truly focused on successful negotiations is Collaborative Law. You can read more about it in this blog or in my Texas Collaborative Law Blog.
Aside from utilizing the Collaborative process, here are some ways people can act to improve their level of satisfaction with negotiations (or even trial outcomes).
1. Adjust your expectations. Most attorneys want their clients to be realistic about the possible outcomes. Very few attorneys (especially good ones) will encourage their clients to assume that everything will work out well or that they will get everything they want. Experienced attorneys are able to give realistic ideas to clients about what to expect, what the law allows and what the results often have been in similar situations. Clients sometimes don't want to face the possibility of an unpleasant outcome, but they may be facing bad facts, an unfavorable legal position or a hostile judge or jury. Clients often need to not be overly optimistic. Lowering expectations makes it easier to meet or exceed them, which means the client is often very happy. 2. Try a different process. If you are unsuccessful in reaching a satisfactory agreement in direct negotiations with your spouse/opponent, maybe you should change the environment and take a different approach. You can always go to court, but I prefer to use mediation in most cases. Somehow the use of a trained, neutral third party mediator raises the chances of success. Often the mediator ends up having more credibility than the attorney for either party; being known as neutral and with special experience and expertise, the mediator can often move mountains. If mediation doesn't work, the parties can try arbitration or trial. Of course, my all-time favorite is Collaborative Law, although you can't easily jump in or out of the process. Collaborative is a good starting point because it can leave open the other alternatives.
3. Focus on the future. Playing the blame game is really counterproductive. Sometimes it is important to figure out what went wrong, but most of the time it generates hard feelings, leads to more arguments and wastes time. In contrast, if the negotiations focus on how to achieve the goals for each party and just look to the future, the discussions can move much more quickly and be more successful.
4. Distract yourself. One of the “cures” for a crying infant is to distract the child by various means, such as a new activity or motion, new sounds, placing the child in a new environment, etc. You can do the same thing for yourself. If you figure out that you are in a funk because you are having difficulty dealing with a case or some issues, you can lead yourself out of the funk by such things as physical activity, pleasant music or background sounds or moving yourself into a different environment. It takes some self-awareness, but anyone can do it, if they want to. 5. Get more information. Sometimes getting additional information about a subject under discussion will lead to a decision. Instead of spending hours arguing about the value of a house, it may be more rational to get a new appraisal or run comps. Sometimes it helps to know the rules of a program or an investment service. You may be mistaken in some assumptions you have made, and getting information may help you correct your thoughts or approach so that you can see an appropriate solution or so that you can realize that you have already done well.
6. Forgive. Being able to be a mature adult and to offer forgiveness sure positions you to be successful. People can really get bogged down with hatred, anger and reliving the past. Let go and you can focus on your goals for the future. Get rid of the negative emotions and you can operate at a higher level. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone makes bad mistakes sometimes. We all have done things that caused hurt to our loved ones. If you have received the hurt, you can let go of the painful incident if you just forgive the other party. Forgiveness frees both parties to succeed.
7. Choose to be happy. Some people have a hard time accepting that they can choose their mood, but it is true in many cases. Mental or emotional illnesses may prevent a person from being able to exercise that much control, but the more common situation is that people have the ability to choose to be happy. Making a conscious effort can lead to a very pleasant mood. It is important to ignore the nay sayers who will whisper negative comments that will upset you and make you unhappy. There are many well-intentioned people who cross your path and will be influencing you and your attitude. You can take charge of your own attitude by following the suggestions above.