When Divorce Negotiations are Possible . . . or Not . . .

“Churchill said that you cannot negotiate with your head in the mouth of a tiger.” This is true – Even for those of us committed to Peaceful Resolutions and diplomacy.

When your head is in the mouth of a tiger, trying to “negotiate” is tantamount to accepting death. When Churchill declared this, WWII was lost. There was no option but for England to fight to the death, despite terrible odds, or be conquered.

This is the nature of litigated divorce. You are not fighting for the sovereignty of a nation. Instead, the war will be fought on a battlefield where your children roam,and your life savings are strewn about. Professionals claiming to be “collaborative” in spirit, must be collaboratively trained and experienced to actually conduct a legal process that is not litigation.

Consider that for Consensual Dispute Resolution (Collaborative Divorce or various Mediation protocols) to be effective for divorce, you and your partner must be willing to both:
a) Take your own head out of your Partner’s mouth, and
b) Take your partner’s head out of Your mouth.
Collaborative Divorce Professionals are specifically trained to help you do this, to put your guns down. Otherwise, fear and the grasping for power, when partners feel helpless, scared and lacking in trust, will drive the divorce process towards litigation.

Your head may be “in the Tiger’s mouth,” to the extent: you don’t have access to your own financial documents; a spouse took your name off a deed without your knowledge or never put it on; you lack financial understanding of the documents you have and you’re unwilling to learn; your spouse hired a litigating attorney not trained in collaborative while saying he wants a collaborative divorce, your requests for your own financial documents are ignored; you are falsely accused of child abuse; you feel or are pressured into feeling guilty about genuinely not trusting a partner when there is a history of reasons justifying distrust; your access to the kids is actively obstructed; you or your partner act unilaterally without consulting each other or the team in ways that push, coerce and undermine the trust needed for respectful resolutions; your spouse slanders who you are to the kids, etc. Similar maneuvers by either partner escalate distrust and push a couple towards litigation when peaceful options may be viable.

Recently, an addict parent relapsed and was finally in recovery for the first time. At that point there still may have been hope for the couple. Their dynamic was destructive but neither wanted a divorce. Then, while in sober living, unilaterally and without discussion, she filed a petition with the court barring her husband from taking their 2 year old to another state where the husband’s work was located. Husband commuted out of state for work and now could not responsibly leave their child with Wife, given her relapse. Understandably, Wife feared her husband might take their child away from her. At the same time, she could not fathom how her legal action forced her husband to choose between their livelihood and their son. She persisted in wanting to do couples therapy, and/or move towards Collaborative Divorce, without grasping that having a gun to her husband’s head made balanced negotiations or working on the relationship impossible. She was too scared to withdraw the petition, and put down the gun, so the couple was forced to litigate.

You can only manage this head-out-of-mouth removal if you are willing to fully know and acknowledge how it is that you may have your partner’s head in your mouth, as well as how your head may be in your partner’s mouth. Your hope for an honorable negotiation depends on your respective abilities to recognize power imbalances that you hold in place, and how these undermine trust and sabotage peaceful resolutions.

Facilitating this acknowledgement is part of multiple layers of work performed by a Collaborative Divorce Team, and especially by the Divorce Coaches (licensed mental health professionals specifically trained in mediation and collaborative divorce). This acknowledgement, in one form or another, is what makes honorable, divorce dispute-resolutions possible.

Only if one partner actively refuses to understand and let go of these power imbalances, will you have no choice but to litigate. And this will force both of you to carry the relentless emotional and financial burdens of litigation, for yourselves, your children, and perhaps for your whole extended family and community, until one of you either runs out of resources, wakes up to the heavy cost of what you’re doing, cares enough about the cost to your children, and/or realizes there is no “winning” in divorce. Then, only after outrageous expense, people tend to come to their senses and 95% of cases “settle,” meaning the attorneys negotiate the end result.

In a Collaborative Divorce a professional team aligns with your higher values and empowers you to sit down and negotiate a plan that considers the well-being of all family members, for roughly 1/4 – 1/3 the cost, financially, and 3/4 of the cost emotionally.”


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