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Negotiating to Get What You Deserve: Part 2


But most divorces are far from amicable. The couples involved are too hurt, angry, or insecure to work out an agreement on their own. They will need their lawyers not only to protect their rights but to serve as their advisers and negotiators in what may turn out to be a long and difficult process of coming to a settlement.

To a considerable degree the tone of the negotiations will reflect your relationship during the marriage: If your husband has been overbearing and controlling, he will not suddenly become sweetly reasonable now. If he has been emotionally withdrawn, you cannot expect a show of sympathy and concern for your future. If he has been selfish and narcissistic, he will fail to see why he should sacrifice any of his pleasures for you and the children.

Your personality and your response to his behavior are not likely to change, either: You may continue to be intimidated by bullying or driven to distraction by passivity or to feel furious in the face of total self-centeredness. And, as we saw in the preceding chapter, your emotions and his will be exacerbated by the manner in which the marriage is ending.

From the start, your lawyer will have to take into account the psychology of your marriage in order to devise the best strategy for your divorce. Long before the negotiations take place, the results can be heavily influenced by what you and your husband have done and said as your marriage began to fall apart. All of this will help determine the main weapons that your lawyer and lawyers will use during the negotiations: the various forms of leverage. . . .

To make the best use of all kinds of leverage, it is vital that your lawyer know as much as possible about your husband’s behavior, personality, and finances. The opposite edge of the weapon makes it important that you conceal as much as possible from the other side you deepest motives, desires, and insecurities in order to keep them from being used against you.

It is a sad fact that the most decent people are often the least skillful at using leverage. They do not have the natural cunning to think in terms of turning other’s weaknesses against them or to hide their own feelings and motives. Such clients often damage themselves before they see a lawyer by what they reveal to their husbands or what they do as a result of their unhappiness and distress.

That is why, from the start, your lawyer may discourage your direct communication with your husband about the issues of the divorce. What you tell your husband about your desires or how you respond to his threats may provide him with the necessary clues to exerting leverage later on. What you do in the heat of emotion can seriously compromise your financial security in the future.

Negotiations usually start after both sides have all the financial information they need. But there are times when leverage can be used successfully during the discovery phase.

Who will make the first move? Either lawyer may submit a suggested settlement to the other, or the two may exchange their ideas for an agreement. In some cases, particularly if your husband wants the divorce sooner rather than later, your lawyer may advise you to let your husband make the first offer and then see by how much he will improve it in order to get an agreement without delay. In other cases, especially when a husband is being obstinate and evasive, the best strategy may be to go first and propose a top-of-the-line settlement that could shock him into confronting the reality of the situation. In still other cases, where both wife and husband are being relatively reasonable, it makes sense to exchange proposals in order to identify areas of disagreement and start bargaining to narrow them down.

*Brenner, Lois and Robert Stein. “Negotiating to Get What You Deserve” Getting Your Share: A Woman’s Guide to Successful Divorce Strategies. San Jose: Authors Choice Press, 1989. 80-98. Print.