The Danger of Premature Certainty in Divorce

Aug 20, 2019

Dewey Defeats Truman

I recently heard a reporter and author discuss his team’s process for determining which stories to pursue, and which ones to shelve. He said that in their process “premature certainty is the enemy.”

I had never heard the term “premature certainty” before, and maybe he invented it on the spot (a quick Google search found it in one lone discussion of software development). But, it struck me as exactly what the collaborative divorce process is designed to avoid.

A general definition of premature certainty might be thinking that you know the facts or solutions before the prerequisite information has been determined or proper analytical steps have been taken.

In a divorce context, one or both spouses commonly try to figure out the solutions and answers to the legal, financial and practical challenges as soon as they realize what is happening. They frequently do this in their minds, before and without input from the other. That is, they become prematurely certain of the best way to resolve the issues.

That is a perfectly natural response to the new and unknown situation that spouses find themselves facing in separation and divorce. It is not a bad thing to begin thinking of those issues.

But, there is an important difference between initial thinking and premature certainty. One is thought and analysis, the other is a conclusion.

Why does it matter? Premature certainty negatively impacts the negotiation process by:

  • Closing the door to alternative, potentially better, solutions before they can be analyzed
  • Truncating the information and fact gathering and therefore eliminating necessary information from consideration
  • Creating dangerous blind spots
  • Entrenching thought processes and creating “positional” bargaining that often leads to the creation or increase of hostility and destruction of basic trust
  • Creating a dynamic in which any challenge to one spouse’s premature certainty feels like a challenge or criticism; i.e. “I’m not sure that will work” is heard as “your idea is terrible/wrong/dumb”
  • Making the other spouse feel as though their input is neither wanted nor valued

All of these issues extend a negotiation, fueling increased costs and stress. When it comes to divorce negotiations, haste really does make waste.

The collaborative negotiation process is designed to combat premature certainty by placing the certainty phase at the end. In the collaborative negotiation structure, we only seek certainty about solutions after we have gathered all of the necessary relevant information, figured out what is important to the spouses and children (if any) and thoroughly explored potential options for resolution. Before completing those three steps, certainty is premature.

That is not to say that those three steps cannot be completed quickly in appropriate cases so that certain solutions can be chosen.

After all, the goal is to achieve certainty in your resolution, just not prematurely. If you find yourself in a separation or divorce situation, make an effort to resist premature certainty in favor of a structured information gathering and analysis process. And consider a process like collaborative divorce that is designed to combat premature certainty. The resilience and quality of your ultimate solution will benefit.

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