Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How to Negotiate Effectively

A recent post on Human Law Mediation had five great tips for more effective negotiating in mediation. While some of these tips could also improve your efforts in the Collaborative Law arena, the list highlights some of the differences in approach between Collaborative Law and mediation.

1. Plan and prepare in the right way. In the Collaborative context, this would include thinking ahead about what your goals are. How do you see yourself coming out of this process? Think about your major long-term goals as well as some important but short-term ones. Use neutral experts to help you decide what you should focus on. Gather and share all the information you have in your possession on any relevant issues. Thinking and planning ahead can help the process move more smoothly and be less stressful.

2. Listen more than you talk. One way to increase your chances of success is to spend more time listening to your spouse (or the other party). In relationships, it is not unusual for partners to develop patterns of communication where one party tends to be more verbal than the other. Even if you are the more silent one, you may be tuning out your partner rather than actively listening. Having a mental health specialist help with the communication issues can result in both parties listening more effectively.

3. Keep emotions in check. Having a mental health professional involved helps keep the emotions in perspective. While emotional reactions need to be dealt with, they do need to be controlled. You can do a much more effective job for yourself if you can avoid being too emotional. It helps to keep in mind what your overriding goals are.

4. Balance aggression against cooperation. In a Collaborative case, aggression is controlled and avoided. Cooperation is the approach that is acceptable. This illustrates a major difference between Collaborative Law and other types of negotiation.

5. (Generally) make the first offer. This tip relates to "positional" bargaining (often used in mediation), rather than "interest-based" bargaining (a fundamental part of Collaborative Law). In positional bargaining, one side stakes out a position and uses that to try to reach an anticipated result. Interest-based negotiations focus on the actual goals and needs expressed by the parties and the parties work to create solutions that help them achieve the goals for both parties. The thought is that someone can limit or expand the range of possible settlements by making the first offer.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Prenuptial Agreements

As couples start discussing marriage, prenuptial agreements are sometimes considered for various reasons. There can be a lot of value to be gained by using a prenuptial agreement, but it can also damage relationships if not approached in a sensitive manner. In the February 5, 2006 issue of the Chicago Tribune, Janet Kidd Stewart wrote about prenuptial agreements being used for older couples who get married.

There are a number of concerns that may surface when older couples are thinking about getting married:
  • inheritances
  • family peace
  • creating joint wealth from shared efforts after marriage
  • providing for health care
  • estate planning
  • debts, including medical bills.

Dealing with those issues can be very complicated because of other family members who may become involved. Older couples often have adult children and grandchildren who may become possessive and territorial about the parent's assets. This can lead to conflict and hard feelings between the children and their parent's new spouse, and sometimes between parent and child. Some adult children sincerely believe they need to protect their parent's property so it can benefit the parent, and perhaps rightfully so. Some older couples end up not marrying because of their (or their children's) fears about the financial side of the marriage.

Another option is to work out a prenuptial agreement by using Collaborative law. This is an appropriate use and natural fit because:

  • it requires each party to have their own attorney,
  • it's based on the goals and needs of the parties,
  • it provides for complete disclosure of finances,
  • a financial planner often works with the parties to provide expert tax and planning help, and
  • the parties work together to reach mutual agreements without one party coercing the other.

One of the greatest benefits is that Collaborative Law forces both parties to articulate their goals and needs and to think in concrete terms about how they want their future to look. The prospective spouses can consider how to manage their investments, life insurance, and health insurance, as well as planning for long-term care for later in life. Using creativity to help them achieve their personal and family goals, couples can resolve financial issues early, keep the peace in their families and establish a firm foundation for personal and family financial security.