Clients frequently ask me in a first consult how long a collaborative divorce process takes. And I spend a lot of time thinking about what makes cases so different and why some move faster than others.
One of the biggest variables I’ve found is the set of expectations that clients bring into a case.
Some clients bring in very few expectations about the end result. Some bring in great expectations about the ultimate outcome.
In my experience, clients have more efficient, faster, and less expensive processes when neither party brings unrealistic or rigid expectations to a divorce process. The reason is that an attorney has to spend a lot of time managing these expectations and working to create the flexibility and open-mindedness that produce the best and most efficient results. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase “managing client expectations” in seminars for family law attorneys.
The truth is that in all but the most extreme cases neither party can impose results or outcomes on the other, even (and maybe especially) in court. The vast majority of divorce and family law matters are resolved by mutual agreement. And mutual agreement obviously does not involve imposing outcomes on one another.
To be clear, expectations are different than hopes, concerns, and goals. Hopes, concerns, and goals are helpful and necessary for identifying what is important to a client. Rigid expectations are counterproductive because they reduce the ability to think creatively, brainstorm possible solutions, and work collaboratively to find the best solutions. Expectations often cause people to “anchor” on a particular strategy or outcome and develop tunnel vision. That causes people to miss important, beneficial, and helpful alternatives.
So, if you are seeking the most efficient, productive, and beneficial divorce negotiation process, then challenge yourself to avoid overly rigid or unrealistic expectations in the beginning. It will save you time, money, and stress in finding your family’s new path.
I’ve got young kids and there are no books I enjoy reading to them more than Dr. Seuss. The lessons, philosophy and morality packed into each of his stories is truly genius.
I recently read the read The Zax again and was reminded how apropos it was for a divorce lawyer and my clients.
Here’s a refresher for you:
Just as the north going Zax and the south going Zax find themselves at odds and refuse to move, many divorce attorneys and their clients do the same in trying to resolve family disputes and divorces. And, just as the Zax waste their lives in intractable conflict while the world goes on around them, many clients are lead to waste time and money in intractable court battles or negotiations.
(A telling part of the story is when the South Going Zax boasts that he was taught to handle conflict this way in South Going (read, law) school!)
It is easy to see that the Zax are silly to act on their principles because their principles seem so inane to us. But, to the Zax, those principles are everything. Those principles mean as much to the Zax as our children, financial security and peace of mind mean to us.
So, the real lesson is that often in the world, even deeply held principle must give way to creative problem solving. Otherwise, we would all still be standing in front of the first Zax that we came across. And we would miss the opportunity to resolve the conflict so that we could again focus on our children, financial security and peace of mind.
If you are facing a divorce, or are in the middle of the divorce, think about whether you (or your attorney) are a Zax and what you are missing (or spending) while you stand there defending your principle. Perhaps refusing to budge is your best strategy, but perhaps altering course slightly will get you to your goal quicker.
Blame is a big dynamic in both marriage and divorce. And yet, it almost never moves clients towards their goals. Brené Brown (yes, I am a special fan of hers simply for the use of the accent in her name) does a great job of breaking blame down into what it is at it’s heart: an expression of pain or frustration:
What does it mean to be tough? In divorce, most people (including many lawyers) believe that it means “sticking to your guns”, never compromising, issuing the bigger threats, puffing more, “big talk”, using intimidation. In the name of toughness, people are frequently encouraged to be uncaring, to deny any empathy for their spouse, and to turn off all humane or positive feelings about their marriage and their spouse.
That’s one way to do it.