Your Mother was Right: Play Nice!

29 July 2013

In the last instalment Guest Blog by Paul Sweatman, he asked. "Are there really 50 ways to leave your lover?" The short answer is no. Paul Simon mentioned only a handful and truth be known, there are only a few.

We explored the 'Traditional Way' which, when all parties work together, results in a good legal separation agreement in an acceptable time and at a reasonable cost. But that's if everyone works together — all 4 of you: you and your spouse and your representatives.

The position-based, adversarial nature of the traditional divorce, when all 4 are not moving in the same direction, can be expensive, bruising, stressful, and time-consuming, not to mention the potential damage it can do to your kids. The participants take a position and fight to protect it.

Today, we'll explore the other ways - ways more focused on mutual interests, ways we have grouped under the 'Play Nice' banner.

Financial and Emotional Capital

The deep insult so many divorcing people feel is exceedingly hard to ignore. Both spouses can feel betrayed, harmed, and can, with great clarity and a mountain of evidence, show proof of the injury the 'other' has inflicted on their well-being.

Injury begets anger, anger begets revenge and revenge? Well, revenge is expensive. Financial and emotional capital can be spent for years to right perceived wrongs. And you will see yourself as a victim. Victimhood is righteous and, in its own odd way, comforting. But it can bankrupt the rich and healthy.

Baby with LemonPlay nice you say? Not me! On the contrary, playing mean has a much more attractive aroma. Surely revenge will taste sweeter. And indeed it may, but only for a while. It soon turns bitter and sour. Your once pleasing visage becomes that of a baby with a lemon slice - pursed lips, a look of growing reflective shock.

The main issues in divorce are money and kids

Under 'money' are family assets and liabilities as well as support payments — spousal and/or child support. Under 'kids' lies the greatest treasure you have and to get to a resolution on your children, you need to be counter-intuitive and pay attention to the money first. Figuring out the finances first will free you to take that deep breath to discuss with your spouse how to co-parent the kids. The 'but' you will have is: But how do I get through the money issues without a lemon-face? He/she will want the RRSPs, the boat, the BBQ and the [fill in the blank] and I will be left with nothing, and I'll be damned if I am going to give in! How to get to "playing nice?"

'Play nice' means:

  • Not fighting in front of your kids
  • Don't fight at all
  • No angry emails or texts
  • No angry voice messages
  • Don't speak poorly of your spouse (especially in front of your children)
  • Don't take that easy cheap shot. Learn to bite your tongue
  • If you have another relationship, don't flaunt it in front of your spouse or kids
  • If you don't have another relationship, wait until after you have your agreement before starting one
  • Get help from therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, divorce resource books
  • Bring in a family lawyer versed in mediation and negotiation
  • Call a family lawyer practicing Collaborative Law
  • Call a service like ours, Fairway Divorce Solutions

You don't actually have to be nice. That might be more than you can stomach. In that case, just pretend to be nice. The truth can be over-rated anyway, and hypocrisy can be useful when employed for a greater good (please do not quote me on this). The greater good is your kids and if you are honest with yourself, you'll have to admit that the last few years together were a study in pretending.

Play Nice by Collaborating

So, the stage is set for progress: you promise you'll be disciplined enough to at least pretend to play nice; you'll call a pro who knows how to work with couples who would rather be in Philadelphia; and you are willing to take deep breaths, bite your tongue, and listen carefully for a few months.

Our preferred approach is to focus not on position-based thinking, but instead of interest-based thinking. We negotiate for a flat fee, usually in the $3,000 - $8,000 range, which when split between the couple means $1,500 - $4,000 each for resolution of all issues prior to getting a family lawyer to finalize the plan as a legal separation agreement.

As far as we know, it is the least expensive, fastest, and least stressful approach to resolving issues. But there are conditions' You need to be able to be in the same room with your spouse at least twice in the process, and you'll still need a lawyer at the end of it. Our goal is to have you about 90% through the process by the time you need to retain the services of that lawyer.

Another 'play nice' approach is collaborative divorce. Collaborative divorce started in California in the 1990s and has quite properly spread throughout Canada and the US. It is a practical and thorough approach involving lawyers, coaches/therapists, and a financial expert. As with the negotiated, resolution approach, collaborative divorce commits the parties to be respectful and cooperative.

Some of you simply are nice and can use the 'do-it-yourself' packages out there. I have no opinion on these. Apparently, they work fine for some folks, but like my dad, a lawyer used to say, "Anyone who hires themselves as their lawyer has a fool for a client", so be careful. Overall, it boils down to the age-old advice of moms everywhere: "Be nice, or at least play nice."

Author: Paul Sweatman